Philosophy, computers and geeky brain teasers

You ought to be careful when combining absolutes with words like true, false and not. The mixture is trickier than you might think.

Here’s a brain teaser to illustrate my point.

“There is no absolute truth”

You might have heard this statement before, and you might even hold it to be true at face value. I personally think it is very carelessly phrased: if we hold it to be true, then we must draw the logical conclusion to which it leads us: the statement that there is no absolute truth cannot be an absolute truth either. Postulating that absolute truth does not exist implies the possibility of its existence.

An answer to this paradox might be found in the first principle of René Descartes, a 17th century French philosopher:

Cogito, ergo sum

I think, therefore I am

It implies that there is at least one absolute truth out there, that of one’s existence, since doubting your own existence implies the existence of a medium where the thought of doubt is occurring, which is yourself. It gets geekier dear reader, keep reading.

If we go further down the road, we might lead ourselves out of philosophy land and into computer science territory: TRUE, FALSE, and logical operators like AND, OR and NOT are in fact the cornerstone of modern technology in the broad sense: phones, cars, SpaceX rockets, particle accelerators and anything in between rely on some kind of computing capacity, which is built on top of FALSE and TRUE values and logic operators, through a specific algebra, the Boolean algebra, into microprocessors. Wait wait wait wait! Don’t rush through the door. I know I just said algebra, but I also mentioned Boolean which is the fun part.

Photo by Markus Spiske

Boolean algebra is a binary or base 2 algebra. This means that you can only use two figures, 0 and 1, to represent all numbers from 0 to infinity. The numbers 0 and 1 are still written as 0 and 1 in binary but 2 can only be represented as 10, 3 thus becomes 11 and 4 is written as…100. Any decimal number becomes a sequence of zeros and ones in binary mode, and all that computers do is storing these zeros and ones in their memory registers as representations of the TRUE and FALSE values of the Boolean algebra, and perform operations on them: AND which is equivalent to a multiplication, OR, which is equivalent to a sum and NOT, which is equivalent to an opposite, among other operators.

For example, NOT(1) is always 0 and never 1, or in other words, NOT (TRUE) always yields FALSE, never TRUE.

Which could be a way of saying that the statement “There is no absolute truth” is always false, never true, at least as far as computers are concerned. Wouldn’t you agree?

To Wassim

Let the board sound


Whatever the cost

I tend to shy away from topics related to faith in my posts, as I believe it to be a very personal matter. This post will not create precedent from that respect. It is not really about faith, even if written from a faithful’s point of view. It is about guilty silence. It is about Omertà. About the moral imperative to break the silence and speak up when our brothers and sisters are in jeopardy. It is a call to do what is right whatever the cost when the innocent and the weak are at stake in our communities. And more so in a community of faithful.

So, dear reader, bear with me on this post if we do not share the same faith or even just faith, and more so if we do, for truth and doing the right thing are virtues which transcend faiths. Here I go.

You, shielding yourself from the truth, silent when you should have spoken, listen. Can you hear the inner voice?

 “Ye shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free

That’s black on white. A verse at the core of your faith. A verse you chose to ignore. Why? Do you dread the truth? Are you afraid to be blinded by the light?

I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness.

What did you make of that other verse then? Is the world so dark that you forgot about the light? Or maybe you are betting on a prophecy. Ah, I see…

And I say also unto thee, That thou art Peter, and upon this rock I will build my church; and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.

How convenient. But you see, this monument will not stand on its own, victorious against the gates of hell by virtue of some magic spell. This verse is to be read by the faithful not as a self-fulfilling prophecy but as an imperative: The gates of hell shall not prevail against it for YOU will stand in their way! There is no alternative. Reading it in any other way makes your faith a David Copperfield show. Pointless. The Almighty will not yield a magic wand to turn things around. He has better means for that: you!

And what have you done? Instead of protecting the innocent and the weak from the gates of hell, you have sheltered in your silence the fallen who dared to defile the most sacred of all.

It were better for him that a millstone were hanged about his neck, and he cast into the sea, than that he should offend one of these little ones.

Not often does the Lord speak so harshly of someone in the Gospels you read every Sunday…

You already know the truth. Allow it now to set you free.

Let the board sound