You find yourself trapped in room with two computers and two doors. You know that one computer only can answer questions with lies, and that the other only responds with truth. You know that one door leads to escape, and the other to your doom. You do not know which is which in either case. You may ask one computer one question, and from that answer you must deduce which is the correct door.
What question must you ask?
This is an old logic puzzle game that we used play growing up. We called them two minute mysteries, though the two minute part was purely arbitrary. Sometimes the conclusion could take hours, even days to be reached. These were really fun on long car rides or family vacations. More fun in a bigger group where more people could ask questions. You get to ask the teller questions, but only yes or no questions. The mystery outlined above is the only two minute mystery I know for which you can ask no questions. You can ask them, but it is futile. The answers to any questions you might ask will not narrow it down. This is one that you simply have to figure out.
This mystery comes to my mind as I see the nation diving face first into the latest controversy headlining in all sectors. This highly polarizing drama - brought to you by the media that hardly anyone trusts anymore but that everyone still watches anyway, starring the government that you don’t have a choice but to live in subjugation to - is a mystery that cannot be solved through asking either party what is true. We know that one of them is lying. We don’t know who. How can we categorically determine the truth?
Some questions to think about.
In a case of conflicting testimony, can one side’s word ever be considered proof?
What does constitute proof in these kinds of cases? Have we anything but testimony to go on?
This kind of problem comes up often in parenting. One or both kids come to you crying over a dispute, and the story as to who did what is predictably inconsistent. When dealing with such disagreements, I have had to come to a hard realization: we simply cannot know for sure. Ever. We can have a hunch, or even be pretty sure, but even then, we cannot know. Get it on video, get categorical proof, and that changes. But without that, it cannot be fairly decided by a third party. Only those involved know the real truth, and if the liar never gives in and confesses, the world will simply never know.
I know that an FBI investigation is now supposed to go on, so perhaps some further evidence can be brought forth to bolster the claims of either side. Who knows?
What I implore of you, my good friends, is to ask of yourself, do you truly KNOW which of them is lying, or have you simply picked a side?
I wish to extend my deepest condolences to all who have been assaulted and not believed, as well as to all who have been falsely accused. The torment of undergoing either is unthinkable. And sadly, it is folly to assume that we can create a system that guarantees justice, even if we design a system of government that isn’t simply a network of cartels. Even in the most ideal kind of voluntary society, these kinds of cases will always come up, and short of a full on surveillance state where freewill and privacy are but a memory, or short of a telepathically connected society of conscious individuals who recognize their own interbeing, we will never know the truth.
It is an enormous breech of protocol for me to do this, but in order to complete my illustration, I have to reveal the answer to the mystery I began with. (Not that you couldn’t just look it up on the web…) When you’re stuck in the room with the two computers, what one question can you ask to reveal the truth, regardless of whether the answer is the truth or a lie?
You must think as the other side would. In the case of our national drama it is something akin to putting yourself in someone else’s shoes. Looking at things from multiple perspectives helps us to appreciate the reality of complexity, and to grow beyond overly simplistic understandings about truth. It requires us to be willing to consider both sides objectively, rather than making up our minds based on our general stance about an issue. I have yet to be convinced that in a case like this that we can ever categorically know, unless compelling new evidence is brought forth. At the end, it will likely remain a matter of opinion.
To find the door that leads to the escape, you may ask of either computer, “What would the other computer tell me to pick so that I might escape?” How would the mendacious computer respond? How would the veracious computer respond? Think it through. Their answers will be the same, and it will tell you which door not to pick.
All we know is which door not to pick. What do we have to gain from carrying out a national debate, two-sided and chaotic, like a huge middle school dodge-ball game, over a scenario that is really anybody’s guess? What can we actually achieve here?
I have not gone into my personal position on this case, and I will not in this public capacity. I love a good game of dodgeball, but I’m currently too preoccupied with other projects to lob any of my observations into the fracas. I have a diverse friend list with all three sides (left, right, anarchist) represented, and I’m seeing what kinds of gauntlets are being thrown down. I’m going to pass.
Yet I felt inspired to post this neutral line of questions for participants on all sides to consider. This is a serious situation, and hasty presumptions do us no good. If we were on either side of this dispute, we would want fair consideration.
And finally I’d like to say that in spite of all this drama, the sky will still be beautiful tonight, the rivers will yet spring forth from their headwaters, and our world will remain full of wonders. I for one am grateful to be here, even though this world is fraught with problems. We have many serious challenges to overcome to protect our planet from further destruction. We also have many problems to solve in our social structures and communities. We all have so much work to do on matters that affect us all. We must work together. We must put our differences aside sometimes and focus on commonly held goals. The stakes have never been so high, and I would much prefer to be in good relations with my people, co-creating beautiful things together, than arguing over a question that has no correct answer.
So spare me your opinion on the latest allegations and I’ll spare you mine. Let’s talk instead about creating the kind of world we’d all prefer. Let’s talk deep strategy, all the way down to goals for trajectory and introductory steps. Let’s solve some problems. The system is coming unraveled (this latest media circus reflects it) and this is prime opportunity for new approaches to gain traction. Whose got some ideas?