Friday, March 31, 2006

Truth... or tricks?

I received an interesting e-mail today that sent me on a little scientific excavation. And the result demonstrated how a little bit of careful thinking goes a long way in the quest for truth.

First let me reconstruct the original e-mail here:




In black you can read the word GOOD, in white the word EVIL
(inside each black letter is a white letter). It's all very philosophical too,
because it visualizes the concept that good can't exist
without evil (or the absence of good is evil).


Can you see why this painting is called optical illusion? You may not see it at first,
but the white spaces read the word optical, the blue landscape reads the word
illusion. See for yourself!


The word TEACH reflects as LEARN.


In brown you can read ME, and when you look through
you can read YOU. Read this text aloud.


The word THE is repeated twice...but did u notice???



Very well.

I did a little experiment having nothing at all to do with these pictures, but with one of the statements accompanying them. My experiment was based on the first picture's comments:

"It's all very philosophical too, because it visualizes the concept that good can't exist without evil (or the absence of good is evil)."

Somehow I knew that doesn't sound quite right. But it's not good enough to "just know". Just what exactly is wrong with this statement? And if something's wrong can I prove it? So my hypothesis was basically this: Is this statement's assumptions about good and evil correct?

Here's a detail of what I found out:

If we study this quote a little more carefully, what mistakes can we spot from the above statement describing the first picture?

Notice the statement's assumption that "good can'’t exist without evil" IS THE SAME AS "the absence of good is evil" (established by the conjunctive 'or' in parentheses).

To better understand what the quoted statement really means, let's convert the above into logical equations: Let's represent good with the letter 'G' and evil with the letter 'E'. So now we have the following:
  1. "good can't exist without evil" becomes
    "G - E = -G"

  2. "the absence of good is evil" becomes
    "G - G = E"
In the first equation, we see that G cannot exist (or G has a negative status) without E. In other words, if we take E out of the equation, G by necessity disappears as well. The application of this is that, if equation #1 is true, then a world without evil is also a world without good.

Whereas in the second equation, we see that E can only exist when G is taken from the equation. In other words, if we take G out of the picture, then E will appear. The application of this is that, if equation #2 is true, then a world without good is a world where evil exists.

Now here's the heart of the problem: Is the statement's assumption a right one? Are both equations/statements saying the same thing, like what the anonymous writer would think or have us believe?

OBVIOUSLY NOT!

Why not? Here's why:

Proposition #1:
G - E = (not G)
G = (not G) + E

Proposition #2:
G - G = E
G = E + G
G = G + E

According to the law of noncontradiction, we can see from the workings above that Proposition #1 DOES NOT EQUAL TO Proposition #2.

Therefore, we can safely conclude that "good can't exist without evil" IS NOT THE SAME AS "the absence of good is evil".

Now let's recap the original observation:
"It's all very philosophical too, because it visualizes the concept that good can't exist without evil (or the absence of good is evil)."

With the help of the test that we'’ve just done, we can see more clearly now that this statement obviously contains error. If according to the anonymous writer the first picture visualizes any concept at all*, it's either it visualizes the concept that "good can't exist without evil" OR "the absence of good is evil", but the picture CANNOT VISUALIZE BOTH CONCEPTS at the same time.

So which concept is the right concept and which is not?
Is Proposition #1 correct and Proposition #2 incorrect? Or is it the other way around? To better answer that, we need the help of philosophy on top of the logical thinking we've just applied, but that is an entirely different topic all on its own.

For now let's just bear in mind that, from the result of the test that we've done, "good can't exist without evil" IS NOT THE SAME AS "the absence of good is evil".



*I did not include in the above analysis one observation that I made after the experiment. As creatively as these pictures are presented, I never believed they illustrate any philosophical concept at all (especially not when alleged truths about good and evil are inferred from the first picture).

In other words, just because we are capable of twitching images to accommodate certain ideas doesn't mean that we have established valid evidence for those ideas, good or bad. For example, as the first picture demonstrates, you can't even hope that the picture would support ideas like "good can't exist without evil" without manipulating the letters in some way to fit the intended meaning. In Genting or Vegas that's called a loaded dice. Likewise in a science lab, that's tampering with the apparatus. What you end up with is not a proper 'G' or 'D', but the likeness of a 'G' or 'D' or whatnot (that's when optical illusions gain an upperhand in fooling the mind to trust the eyes). As soon as the distance between the letters or the thickness of the lines by which the letters are formed is altered, or one stroke curving or ending without certain flourish, the whole thesis breaks down.

The pictures might speak a thousand words in this case, but they certainly don't speak a word of truth.

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