Posts Tagged ‘beliefs’

Pointless brain teasers

Friday, March 26th, 2010

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.

Unreasonable beliefs

Friday, March 19th, 2010

A friend from grad school posed a question to ponder on, which is actually a pretty deep one, so much so that I’ve only begun to do any serious thinking about it. And that question is: “What is your most unreasonable belief?”

This is the kind of introspection I don’t do enough in spite of the importance I place on it. Since I value reasonableness very highly (pop quiz: my favorite judicial test is the reasonable person standard), my gut reaction is that most of my beliefs are pretty reasonable. Another off-the-bat reaction is that beliefs are kind of like preferences: they can’t be wrong. But, that’s not what’s being asked, and since we can imagine some pseudo-objective standard of reasonableness, I think the question is still valid.

I didn’t have a good list of my beliefs, which feels like a precondition for evaluating the most unreasonable. But coming up with an exhaustive list is a hard problem in its own right. I figure I can just start listing beliefs I have and see where that gets me.

I believe people are by nature good. I believe there is one supreme omnipotent awesome (etc) being called God. I believe that things tend to work out in the end. In that vein, I believe in some grand cosmic plan that’s somehow consistent with free will. I believe that science (and, to a lesser extent, technology or knowledge) is the best bet for humanity’s long-term welfare. I believe that most of the time what I do / say / think / etc is correct (since it’s hard to operate under the alternate belief). I don’t know if this counts as a belief, but I’m pretty sure computers will become sentient one day. Okay, probably my most unreasonable belief is that zombies are real and will one day infest the planet unless we start preparing now. But now that I have a short list in front of me, most (all?) of the above could reasonably be challenged.

The follow up question is: What is the (non-trivial) belief that you’re most confident in? I’ll leave that one as an exercise to the reader, for now anyway.

Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 Unported.