AOH :: SNQUIZ.TXT|
A Sneaky Quiz
A Sneaky Quiz with a Subversive Commentary
DIRECTIONS: The following quiz has been designed to undermine the unstated
unconscious assumptions that inflame most arguments or discussions about
heretical ideas and
turn debate into heated quarrel. With no further explanation (at this point),
I invite you to
jump in and measure your S.N.Q. (Semantic Naivety Quotient) by judging each
of the following
1. Francis Bacon wrote Hamlet.
2. Ronald Reagan wrote Hamlet.
3. F=ma (Force equals mass times acceleration)
5. Water boils at 100 degrees Centigrade.
6. There is a tenth planet in our solar system beyond Pluto.
7. All propositions are either true or false.
8. All propositions are true in some sense,false in some sense, true and
false in some sense, and neither true nor false in some sense.
9. When blessed by an ordained Catholic priest,a piece of bread becomes
the body of a Jew who died about 2000 years ago.
10. All gremlins eat red lemons.
11. The Pope is infallible in matters of faith and morals.
12. Charlie Manson was responsible for several murders.
13. A court found Charlie Manson responsible for several murders.
14. The Nazi government killed six million Jews.
15. The Federal Reserve Bank is controlled by the Bavarian Illuminati.
16. Colorless green ideas sleep furiously.
17. The Smithsonian Institute has John Dillinger's legendary 23-inch penis
in a jar, but they only show it to friends of government officials and deny
its existence to people like you and me.
18. A boy has never wept nor dashed a thousand kim.
19. Beethoven is a better composer than Mozart.
20. The electron is a wave.
21. The electron is a particle.
22. Lady Chatterley's Lover is a pornographic novel.
23. Lady Chatterley's Lover is a sexist novel.
24. All men are created equal.
25. All humans are created equal.
26. All entities are created equal.
27. God told me to tell you that what you want is sinful.
28. I became one with God.
29. The following sentence is false.
30. The previous sentence was true.
31. The Darwinian Theory of Evolution has been conclusively proven.
32. The Darwinian Theory of Evolution has been conclusively disproven.
33. UFOs exist.
Since techniques of judging the truth value of propositions are still in
among logicians, mathematicians, scientists, and philosophers, I am not about
"correct" answers to this quiz. Instead, I will offer a commentary on why
attends all the preceding propositions and why the uncertainty about some of
them is vast and
Proposition 1, "Francis Bacon wrote Hamlet," is believed by a small but
and regarded as not only "false" but patently absurd by academic orthodoxy.
No scientific way
exists to test such propositions, and, since historians frequently have
disputes over what
constitutes "real" historical evidence, some doubt must attend a theory of
this nature. I
would suggest that the amount of doubt should be greater than in the case of
"Franklin Delano Roosevelt was President of the United States from 1933 to
less than in the case of "Ronald Reagan wrote Hamlet," and might be perhaps
equal to that in
the case of "Francis Bacon definitely did not write Hamlet."
Personally, I tend to believe Will Shakespeare of Stratford wrote Hamlet, but
since I can't
prove it scientifically and am not an expert on Elizabethan conspiracies, I
am not 100 percent
sure, and prefer to listen to the Baconians politely rather than arouse their
aroused) hostility by dogmatic denial of their Faith.
Proposition 2, "Ronald Reagan wrote Hamlet," only seems clearly false. We
would only evade
a possible trap if we more carefully worded this as "Ronald Reagan wrote the
version of Hamlet
usually attributed to Shakespeare." After all, Ronnie might have written his
own version in
youth and prudently decided not to publish it . . .
Proposition 3, about force being mathematically equal to mass times
absolutely true to everybody-except a few very philosophical scientists.
Nobel laureate P.W.
Bridgman, for instance, held the position that such scientific laws should
considered "useful" than "true," and that what appears "useful" will change
with time as
knowledge increases. Logician Anatole Rapoport (and many others) would
describe such "laws" as
valid rather than "true," on the grounds that we can prove their mathematical
(inner validity) but can only observe that they seem to work experimentally
thus far and can't
know they will always work. Sir Karl Popper, philosopher-physicist, offers
devastating criticism of all, arguing that no scientific law has ever been
proven, but some
have been disproven. Popper's argument is that it would take an infinite
number of experiments
to prove a law strictly, and we haven't had that much time yet, so
science actually advances
by disproving inadequate theories and pragmatically "making do" with the ones
that have thus
far resisted disproof.
I do not aver that the criticisms of Bridgman, Rapoport, Popper, and others
of that ilk
have been conclusive, but only that many learned persons share such views and
the matter of
scientific "truth" still remains in dispute. Some minds cling to certitude,
not because it can
be clearly justified, but evidently because such minds have an emotional need
Proposition 4, "pq = qp," again appears to belong to mathematical validity
demonstrable certainty. It is, in fact, a rule of commutative algebra, and,
however useful you
may find it in the grocery store, there are alternative algebras, one of
which, known as
Hamiltonian or non-commutative algebra, is just as valid (internally
consistent) and has been
found as useful in quantum mechanics as ordinary algebra is in shopping. The
algebra holds that pq is not equal to qp.
Examples like this (and the co-existence of Euclidian, non-Euclidian, and
geometries) demonstrate why many mathematicians do not any longer assert
"truth" or "falsity"
for mathematical systems, but only "validity" or "nonvalidity."
Proposition 5, "Water boils at 100~ Centigrade," appears true on this planet,
living at sea-level. Even on this planet, it appears clearly and demonstrably
false to people
living or doing research in the Rocky Mountains, the Alps, the Himalayas,
The Cosmological Principle holds that scientific laws should be true
everywhere in space-time, but we do not know if any of our current "laws" are
cosmological in that sense. We only
know that they seem to work thus far in the spacetime we have explored thus
far. When we
and/or our instruments probe further, many cosmological laws will probably be
replaced by different "laws" (better approximations).
Proposition 6, about the planet beyond Pluto, is believed by many astronomers
on the basis
of strong inference, but such a planet has not been observed yet. Dr.
Rapoport would class
such assertions as "indeterminate," rather than true or false, until actual
reported and repeatedly confirmed.
Incidentally, would you care to guess how many of your favorite religious,
economic beliefs would be classed as "indeterminate" by the Rapoport
Proposition 7, "All propositions are either true or false," is still
valiantly defended by
the Jesuits, Martin Gardner, the disciples of Ann Rand, and ideologists of
all schools of
political frenzy, but is increasingly doubted by modem logicians and
scientists. One reason
for this increasing doubt is that many propositions appear "indeterminate" in
sense, and we will confront other reasons as we advance. For now, it is
enough to note that
the Formalist school of mathematicians regard all logical-mathematical
systems as being more
like Game Rules than scientific "laws," and, in this case, we should consider
propositions are either true or false" as a Game Rule of Aristotelian logic.
Korzybski, G. Spencer Brown, and John von Neumann, among others, have
invented non-Aristotelian logics that are as valid as non-Euclidian
Similarly, 8, "All propositions are true in some sense, false in some sense,
true and false
in some sense, and neither true nor false in some sense," can be considered a
Game Rule in
Mahayana Buddhism (and in some philosophical interpretations of quantum
mechanics, it seems).
9, about bread becoming flesh during a magical ritual, is fervently believed
Catholics, denied by Rationalists, and considered "meaningless" by Logical
grounds for considering such propositions meaningless are that no event in
space-time (no act,
no sense impression, no scientific measurement) can prove or disprove such
example, one could say that the ritual actually turns the bread into the hide
of the Easter
Bunny, and even though Catholics would probably join Rationalists in
rejecting such a
statement, it is on par with the idea that the ritual turns the bread into
human flesh. When
propositions do not refer to existential events that humans may encounter and
endure in space-time, it seems that the Logical Positivists have some
reasonable grounds for employing the
label "meaningless." (Finding technical problems in this label, Bridgman
suggested the alternative and obviously colloquial term, "footless
10, about gremlins and red lemons, seems also "meaningless" by this Logical
Operationalist) standard. (But how about statements about "the National
11, about Papal infallibility, appears false to Rationalists, but at this
point some may
prefer the label "meaningless," since there is no operation to test the
Pope's omniscience. Or
is Papal Infallibility best considered a Game Rule of Catholicism, like "the
is binding" is considered a Game Rule of baseball?
12, about Manson's guilt, would be considered "legally true" by lawyers,
since a jury, a
judge, and a higher court all found Charlie guilty. However, since even the
Association admits that around five percent of all convicted "criminals" are
appears that legal truth does not guarantee absolute factual truth. That's
why there are books
challenging the court verdict in almost all the famous trials of history, and
one can safely
guess there will someday be books challenging the court's decision on Manson.
13, "A court found Charlie Manson guilty of several murders," seems safer
than 12. It will
be challenged only by those who are also willing to assert that all (or most)
relevant to the trial are forgeries created by some enormous conspiracy . . .
14, concerning the Holocaust, confronts us with exactly that problem, alas.
claim all the evidence of murder in 6,000,000 cases has been faked by a huge
will explain below why I think that instead of simply calling such all-
theories "false," we might more profitably label them "Strange Loops." For
now, I merely
observe that a conspiracy that can deceive us about 6,000,000 deaths
can deceive us about
anything, and that it takes a great leap of faith for Holocaust Revisionists
to believe World
War 11 happened at all, or that Franklin Roosevelt did serve as President
from 1933 to 1945,
or that Marilyn Monroe was more "real" than King Kong or Donald Duck.
15, Illuminati control of banks, also creates a Strange Loop. If we believe
in a conspiracy
of that size, we cannot fully believe in anything else, including the
evidence that led us to
believe in such a conspiracy.
16, "Colorless green ideas sleep furiously," seems to be a classic
in the Logical Positivist sense, since we cannot hope to encounter colorless
green ideas or
observe their sleeping habits. However, this proposition is not meaningless
in another sense.
It comes from Noam Chomsky and has meaning in linguistics, because it
demonstrates that we can
recognize a correct grammatical structure without knowing what the sentence
containing it is
asserting. This is one reason for doubting that the Logical Positivist label
is going to solve all hard cases for
us . . .
17, the Dillinger penis in the Smithsonian, I would classify as purely
meaningless in the
Logical Positivist sense. The proposition indeed is carefully worded to tell
us that any
attempt to prove or disprove it will lead us to be deceived, and hence like
conspiracy theories this verges over from meaningless into a total
18, "A boy has never wept nor dashed a thousand kim," certainly appears
almost any criteria, but it was evidently urgently meaningful to the
gentleman who said it. He
was Dutch Shultz, and he had a bullet in him and a high fever (due to the
bullet), and he was
doing the best he could, under the circumstances, to tell the police what had
will have to consider this "failed communication" unless we are bold enough
to call it Great
19, Beethoven's "superiority" to Mozart, also seems meaningless by strict
standards. I would prefer to call it self-reflexive, on the grounds that it
refers to the
nervous system of the speaker and is a clumsy formulation of the more
"Beethoven seems better than Mozart to me, at the current stage of my musical
20, "The electron is a wave," once seemed "true," but now quantum physicists
tend to regard
it as instrumentally self-reflexive. That is, it should be considered a bad
formulation of the
more accurate report "Using certain instruments we constrain the electron to
appear as a
21, "The electron is a particle," similarly should be considered a bad
formulation of the
accurate report "Using other instruments we constrain the electron to
behave like a particle."
22, about the "pornography" of D.H. Lawrence's best-known novel, was once
and is currently legally "false." I suggest that such statements
should be considered self-reflexive in the sense explained above. One set of
the only instruments they had (their nervous systems), registered pornography;
a later set of
judges, with other instruments (nervous systems), did not register
23, about the "sexism" of the same novel, also seems self-reflexive to me; I
describes events in the nervous system of the speaker. However, many people,
who will agree
that statements about musical merit or pornography "are" self-reflexive,
still insist that
statements about sexism "are" as objective as statements about the number of
apples in a
barrel. I therefore continue to suggest only and do not insist on anything.
will invent a Smutometer or Chauvinoscope someday and we will be able to
or "sexism" . . .
24, "All men are created equal," once seemed true (Jefferson thought he was
anthropological law), and is currently not only indeterminate but sounds a
bit reactionary to
most of us. I suggest we call it a Game Rule of Jeffersonian Democracy.
25, "All humans are created equal," thus appears a Game Rule of current
Democracy, just as Papal Infallibility appears a Game Rule of preJeffersonian
26, "All entities are created equal," appears to be a Game Rule of Buddhism,
becoming a Game Rule of Moral Ecology (as distinguished from scientific
27, "God told me to tell you that what you want is sinful," appears true to
fans of Fundamentalist Evangelism, and is regarded as imposture by scoffers
and skeptics. I
personally regard it as impertinence, but, anyway, it might best be called a
of the instrumentally self-reflexive report "I have had such an astounding
experience that the
only terms I know that can describe it are to assert that God told me to go
out and correct
the rest of you bastards." This does not contradict the fact that other
people have other
terms for the experience, including paranoia and megalomania.
28, "I became one with God," similarly seems to me a sloppy formulation of
the report "I
had such an astounding experience that the only model I know that describes
it is to say God
and I are one." This does not contradict the fact that other people have
including "I and the universe became one" and "myright brain hemisphere began
to merge with my
left brain hemisphere" (and others).
29, "The following sentence is false,"appears neither true, nor false,
nor meaningless, but incomplete. We cannot judge it at all until we can judge
the system of
which it is part.(Most theological and political arguments are about such
statements,which are discussed as if they had true-false ratings, or
"meaning," outside the
system which contains them.)
30, "The previous sentence was true," completes the incomplete system, which
now can be
judged. As is immediately obvious, this system is true if and only if it is
false, and it's
false if and only if it's true. Douglas Hofstadter calls such systems Strange
that term) anthropologist Gregory Bateson has demonstrated that the Game
Rules of many
societies and sub-cultures cause believers to appear like lunatics when seen
from outside the
system. Before judging any proposition as true or false, you should not only
ask if it might
better be called indeterminate or meaningless or self-reflexive or a "local"
Game Rule, but
also if it is part of a Strange Loop that may make you appear crazy if you
try to live with
it. All conspiracy theories beyond the local and temporary-for example, "The
city council was
bribed by the oil company" tend to produce Strange Loops because they create
that no data is untainted by conspiratorial manipulation, and the larger an
is supposed to be, the greater is the ten- dency of believers to enter the
Strange Loop of
31 and 32, asserting that Darwinian evolutionary theory has been proven
or disproven, I
personally would classify as None Of The Above. I regard such assertions as
propaganda in the
Cold War between Darwinians and Creationists. The Darwinian theory has more
or less stood up
for over a hundred years, has flaws which most biologists now admit, and may
revision in the near future, but remains, as Popper has often argued, not in
the same ball
park at all as the "laws" of sciences like mathematical physics. (Personally,
I don't see any
better biological model around than Darwin's, but considering the criticisms
within biology I strongly suspect a better model will arrive shortly -and
will probably be
equally offensive to Creationists . . .)
33, "UFOs exist," seems to me the trickiest proposition on the list. I regard
it as a
simple empirical observation, as "true" and/or "false" as any other sense
are always seeing things in the sky that they can't identify; right now, it
is fashionable to
call such glitches "unidentified flying objects." But people also are forever
seeing things on
the ground that they can't identify; should we call them "unidentified
This last example simply illustrates that when a feud lasts long enough,
track of what they are arguing about. "UFOs exist" does not assert the same
thing as "Alien
spaceships exist"; it is merely the heat of intellectual warfare that causes
both sides to
frequently lose sight of that simple distinction. It would be miraculous if
flying objects existed; that could only indicate a sudden evolutionary
quantum jump in which
human perception and reasoning both increased to near perfection.
Personally, I often
encounter unidentified objects in my own closet . . . and sometimes my wife
what they are or where they came from, either.
It is a wonderful convenience when we can reduce an argument to simple "true
without fudging the data or conveniently "forgetting" ambiguities and
uncertainties. In such
cases, Aristotelian-Boolean logic quickly solves the question. The main
reason so many issues
in science, philosophy, religion, and politics are still in dispute, however,
is not that
everybody is "unreasonable" except for you and your friends, but that, at any
given time, most
theories remain merely internally valid or phenomenologically indeterminate
or meaningless, or
are merely self-reflexive or are local Game Rules or contain paradox-and-
Strange Loops. Or else, in many cases, we simply haven't yet collected enough
data to settle
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