Pointless brain teasers

March 26th, 2010 by ftobia

A few brain teasers here and there are nice, but I am highly skeptical of those who come up with “clever” but really pedantic arguments using logic on dubious prior beliefs, with the seeming purpose of either 1) to demonstrate how clever the questioner is, or 2) to wreak havoc with the average sensible person’s beliefs just to be a rabble rouser. I am, of course, referring to Steven Landsburg, who has a blog that I don’t think is worthy of linking to (but check it out if you’re into people calling your core beliefs into question just to make a buck). The following is my satiric stab at this curious man.

If a tree is in a quantum superposition of falling and not falling in a forest, and a countable infinity of people are around to hear it, under what special assumptions on the nature of space-time does it make a sound?

And now for the real brain teaser:

Two trees are in quantum superpositions of falling and not falling in a forest. One of these trees only lies and one only tells the truth. What is a single question you can ask one of the trees to determine which among them are falling, and, if one or both are indeed falling, whether either will make a sound? (Assume for this argument that you can ask the tree a question without collapsing its quantum state).

And yes, I know brain teasers and contrarian argumentation are different, but I thought these were funny anyway.

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