Wednesday, August 24, 2005

Rigorous Intuition: The Coincidence Theorist's Guide to 9/11

Sometimes I wonder. I wonder how people do and say the things they do and say, and the only reason I can come up with is the horribly condescending idea that they are just ignorant of the facts. This brings up the unpleasant idea of "how do I know what I know?" Or "how do you know what you think you know?" On what do we base our beliefs of what's going on in the world? How do we determine if our perceptions of reality are correct?

There are so many stories of studies of eye-witnesses telling as many different stories of an event as there are eye-witnesses, all of them believing they are correct. (Just Google "psychology study unreliable eye witnesses" for quite a list, including studies from Yale and the Navy.) There is the wonder of hindsight, in which things a great many folk took for granted as true are obviously wrong, like medical care from centuries gone by (think blood letting and lead in medicine and arsenic in cosmetics) or slavery, or the idea of a master race, or a world that's flat, or a universe that orbits around the earth. Hmm -- I suppose I should say those are obviously wrong to me.

The internet has complicated the issue. Piles of information, removed from our personal experience, and largely out of context, is now available to everyone. Anything imaginable can be found online. Contradictions abound. I can spend hours pouring information into my head, information others have put online. I tend to believe and trust things until I discover otherwise, because the alternative is to distrust everything and everyone, and there's just not enough time in life to do that. But common sense is vital, discrimination necessary, or else you are a sucker just waiting to fall victim to every scam.

Ah. Common Sense. Much of it comes down to subjective hunches. We trust sets of ideas that seem correct, and have to assume that our choices are right more often than they're wrong. One would think that facts are facts, beyone question. But what seems a fact may, on further study, turn out to be a misunderstanding of the facts. So much depends on which subset of the information world we live in, which universe of possible truths we are in a position to accept, and which ideas we discount out of hand as preposterous.

Sometimes, in passing, I've mentioned something to someone, something I felt was blantantly obvious to any thinking person, only to get the most amazed expression back from them, as though I were from a different planet. And, for all practical purposes, I suppose I am. Sometimes the worlds of what different people think of as "common knowledge" overlap very little.

When it comes to some things, like for instance the attacks in New York City on 9/11/2001, the dangers and risks to our way of life, the wars our country fights, most folk have facts they believe to be true, official narratives that explain the situation thoroughly and completely. And even the tiniest suggestion that there's perhaps a bit more than can be explained by the "official story" can provoke a reaction similar to what you'd get if you start talking about your abduction by alien UFOs.

In that vein, here's some curious coincidences about that terrorist attack thing. Just coincidences. That's it. Coincidences.


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