Volume 0, Issue 0

The Sieve

In Discussion on 2016/06/15 at 8:39 am

Sieve_of_Eratosthenes_animationImagine a language where there is no need for a word for “real” or “fact” because there are already very clear terms for such things as…

  • conjecture for the sake of exploration
  • conjecture for the sake of entertainment
  • conjecture one really hopes is false
  • conjecture one really hopes is true
  • angry, unfounded accusations one would like to be true so one can feel justified in being angry because one thinks feeling angry without justification is shameful and the purview of toddlers
  • something deep-sounding and vaguely poetic that one asserts because one whimsically confuses beauty with truth
  • something deep-sounding and vaguely poetic that one asserts because one stoically confuses pessimism with prophecy
  • something one is worried about that one actually hopes is not true that one asserts as a provocation in lieu of actually asking the hearer to make the speaker feel better
  • an outright lie to deflect blame from oneself

  • a nuanced distortion involving unbalanced emphasis and/or omission designed to manipulate the hearer into making a choice profitable for the speaker or the speaker’s ally
  • a nuanced distortion involving unbalanced emphasis and/or omission designed to manipulate the hearer into making a choice spitefully harmful to the hearer or the speaker’s enemy
  • a guess
  • a guess backed by coarse, quick, haphazard, or otherwise untrustworthy or unverified measurements
  • a guess backed by reams of verified data
  • a functioning model that is obviously flawed but is useful for making reliable predictions
  • a poorly functioning model that unreliably produces an occasional nearly useful prediction that is not entirely abandoned due to perceived cultural or personal identity value to the speaker
  • a poorly functioning model that unreliably produces an occasional nearly useful prediction that is not entirely abandoned because it earns me money or prestige for the speaker
  • an assertion made for the purpose of declaring one’s membership in a group in an attempt to garner favor or protection
  • an assertion made for the purpose of declaring one’s membership in a group in an attempt to reassure other members
  • an assertion made for the purpose of declaring one’s membership in a group in an attempt to join a massed effort to dominate or intimidate members of other groups
  • nonsense presented for the purpose of provoking confusion or lateral thinking or evoking an emotion

… and the simple lack of any of the above terms being able to apply would make the statement an accurate representation of “true” and “real”.

Oh, wait.

In order:

  • a hypothesis or thought-experiment
  • fiction
  • a fear
  • a wish
  • a deflection
  • an inspirational “meme”
  • a snide “meme”
  • a manipulation
  • a defensive lie
  • rhetoric and/or marketing and/or flattery
  • propaganda
  • a guess
  • an observation
  • a theory
  • science
  • a religion, tradition, and/or superstition
  • quackery
  • membership signaling: request for grooming
  • membership signaling: grooming
  • chest-beating
  • poetry

The words to do that in English were right here all along. And yet.

And yet it’s somehow quite common to see representative statements of any of the above categories with a claim of truth next to it or embedded in it or otherwise implied.

Here’s an exercise for you to take care of on your own time. Scroll or leaf through your favorite reading media (simply because it’s harder to do with an audio stream you can’t pause and rewind – but if you can do that with your videos and podcasts, go nuts) and mark anything presented as truth that falls into one of the above categories … and see what falls through the sieve. Or, to save labor, perhaps mark anything that doesn’t fall into one of the above categories for later scrutiny.

Either way, now you know how to pan for gold. Whether you find the results worth the effort is a function of the stream you’re standing in.

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