Showing posts with label Truth. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Truth. Show all posts

20 November 2023

Often wrong, rarely in doubt.

We’re living in the Information Age. I don’t know what they’ll call the next age, since we don’t yet have enough information to make the call, probably because it’s too hard to imagine anything more wonderful than our modern technology (in the archaic sense of the word – filling a person with wonder).

The computing ability of that little device in my pocket is powerful enough to deliver most of the world’s information in a matter of seconds, any time, day or night. I marvel at this, in the same way I marvel at giant aircraft that fly to Japan and the little handful of pills I take every night I’m told is keeping me alive. The pleasant female voice on my iPhone telling me how to get from Dublin to Killarney. I feel if you aren’t dazzled by these technical miracles, you aren’t paying attention. But still.

Hadron Collider
Hadron Collider

Is information the same as learning, and is learning the same as knowledge?

I’m what they call an Infomaniac, which is a common condition with writers, who want to know everything all the time. I obsessively absorb all the information I can grab, which is a lot, because I never know when it will come in handy. Though I’m beginning to think it’s too much.

One of the conclusions emerging from this gush of information is that much of it is inaccurate. While disinformation is rampant, most inaccuracies are unintentional, because the individual chronicler can only know so much, as is true with those who advise her, so she has to get some things wrong. Consequently, you have to take the things you learn with a grain of salt. A big, honking, room-sized boulder of salt.

A recent article in the New York Times by a learned scientist tells us we really shouldn’t expect science to have the right answers. Actually, quite the contrary. They’re often wrong, and the more conviction they display, the less reliable their assertions. I’ve known this for some time, having studied the history of science. Nearly every groundbreaking study and elegant theory is full of caveats, and put forth usually more as a proposition than an iron-clad, done deal. They will only know how close they got to a definitive answer over time, as additional research adds to the understanding, and the worthy process of challenges and counterarguments takes its course.

And the most wonderful thing to me, is that while science can often predict with 100% certainty what will happen from a set of organized interactions, they often don’t know why. Much of modern electronic wizardry is based on theories of quantum mechanics, which not a single physicist in history has fully understood. They can just guess and approximate, and hope that their children and grandchildren will get us closer to the truth.

(Quantum mechanics is so hard to understand that at least one theoretical physicist thinks his science has given up trying. I agree with him that this is foolish. What if Lewis and Clark had stopped in Kansas, telling each other, this is just too hard?)

So that’s the other leg of the stool. Information leads to learning, which may or may not yield reliable knowledge, which rarely serves up truth, in the absolute way we all understand the word.

Consequently, truth is likely the most revered and slipperiest word in the language. An advertising colleague of mine once said, in the midst of a very confusing and stressful period at work, “I know my name is Joan and I live in a house.” Like her, I know certain things to be true. I love my wife, my dog and my family. I love the places I live, and my friends. I was born in Philadelphia and if I root for the Phillies, they’ll likely lose in the playoffs. Everything else is up for grabs.

glass of red wine

Everyday I read something that totally contradicts what we’ve always considered to be established fact. Coffee is bad for you? Nope. It’s great. Drink all you want. Red wine is great for your health? Nope. Even a little bit will shorten your life. Neanderthals were lumbering, inferior oafs. Nope. Their brains were bigger than ours and they could kick our asses with one foot tied behind their backs. Honey bees are disappearing? Nope. We’re lousy with them.

My goal, and intended default setting, is to be a skeptic, without becoming a cynic. To be open to everything, without believing anything prior to further examination. Trust but verify. As much as you can, and then still keep some skepticism in reserve.

As a young person, I was usually flush with passionate conviction. At his stage, when someone asks my opinion on something, anything, I usually say, “I’m not sure.”

16 January 2017

Stranger Than Fiction

Image may contain: 1 person, smiling People wonder where writers get their ideas for their stories. We've all discussed this here many times but when news comes up like things happened this week, I can only be reminded that we have to only be aware of the daily news because there are stories every day to give fiction writers ideas.

A baby girl kidnapped eighteen years ago in Florida has been found and reunited with her biological mother and father.  The woman who kidnapped the baby who was only five hours old has been jailed.

If you watch, there will be books and stories written with a kidnapped baby at the center of the story. I probably would have written one myself, but my thought is to let this information percolate on the back burner for a time and see what rises out of the news this week.

The story goes that the woman who abducted the baby had posed as a nurse and moved to South Carolina. The biological mother was sixteen at the time and the biological father was in jail for having sex with the young mother. But the couple never gave up. The mother made pleas for her baby's return. The mother also had a birthday cake every year for her missing daughter and saved a piece and froze it every year. The husband of the woman who kidnapped the baby thought the little girl was his and he loves her dearly. He hopes he can still be someone in her life.

The young baby grew up and became interested in seeing pictures of missing and exploited children. Something made her suspect she was a missing child. Haven't heard yet what made her suspicious but as of this time has been reunited with her parents and grandmother.

The other big story to me is the "news" about the mysterious saga of D.B. Cooper. The man who high jacked a commercial airline in 1971, demanded a ransom of $200,000, and parachutes in return for releasing the passengers and jumping from the airplane and disappearing. It's been forty-five years and no trace of the man or his money has been found. Okay, money was found at one point, $5800, the serial numbers matching the ransom recorded by the FBI. But no other money has ever been spent or located.

The man who jumped from the place has actually not been identified. A nicely dressed man in a suit, white shirt and tie and who said his name was Dan Cooper paid cash in Reno for a ticket to Seattle. Back then, no ID was required. Once on board, at the back of the place, the man ordered and paid for a drink. One account even said he smoked a cigarette, which you could also do on planes back then. He then handed one of the attendants a note, with his demands and showed her what looked like a bomb in his briefcase.

The pilot followed the man's instructions getting the ransom money and the parachutes. And Mr. Cooper allowed the passengers and part of the crew to get off at Seattle Sea-Tac Airport. The man gave instructions for the speed, direction and altitude of the plane heading to Mexico. The one female attendant left on board saw the man strapping something around his body. Shortly afterward the rear staircase on the plane opened and the man jumped out. Many reports say the night was rainy, stormy and the plane was flying over a big wooded area.

A few months ago, the FBI formally closed the case of D.B. Cooper also known as NORJAK, Northwest High-jacking. However, recently some new evidence has been discovered by one of the Citizen's Sleuth Groups who have been investigating the case for a number of years.  The J.C. Penney tie that Mr. Cooper was wearing and left on the plane when he jumped has turned up some 100,000 particles that officials believe could hold clues. Particles detected by one of the new powerful microscopes include Strontium, Sulfide, Cerium and titanium. The thinking is that the man could have worked at Boeing. He could have been an engineer or manager at one of the plants. There is hope these particles can lead to someone who remembers an employee who disappear around this time.

There is so much mystery and intrigue still about this mysterious man and the missing ransom money. I can imagine any number of new books being written with this material. Feel free to research and work out your own story.

Although the FBI officially closed the investigation if any new evidence comes to light, they will certainly will devote time and energy to solving the case.

Robert Lopresti, I'm sure you have great background information on D.B. Cooper, right?