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Opinion

The Brownsville States-Graphic page

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Thursday, May 27, 2010

Almost True

By 28th Judicial District Circuit Court Judge Clayburn Peeples So somebody hands me a card the other day, and here’s what it says: (1) This sentence contains five words. (2) This sentence contains eight words. (3) Exactly one sentence on this card is true. “Which sentences are true?” the man asked. “Well,” I think to myself, “the first sentence does contain five words, so it is true. The second sentence also contains five words, so it is false. Then I read the third sentence. “Exactly one sentence on this card is true,” it said. Exactly one. “O.K.,” I say to myself. “Sentence one is the only true sentence.” I almost said so, but then I thought, “No, if sentence three is correct, it’s true too. That would make two correct sentences, so it can’t be correct. And if it is not correct, it has to be false. But it’s not. “But it can’t be true either, because that would make two true sentences on the card, and it says there is only one.” What a mess! What the man had given me was a modern version of an ancient puzzle known as a liar’s paradox, or liar paradox. A liar’s paradox is defined as a statement of facts that asserts its own falsity. Another example would be, “I am lying now. This statement is false.” If the speaker is really lying, the statement is true, but if the statement is true, then the second statement is a lie. Trying to figure out such philosophical brainteasers is a lesson in futility, but for more than two millennia, philosophers of all sorts have tried to do just that. The first of these liar’s paradoxes began in the sixth century BC when a Cretan poet/philosopher allegedly said, “All

Cretans are liars.” As a Cretan, any statement he made would have to be false, because he said, “All Cretans are liars.” Well this linguistic dilemma kept ancient philosophers so stirred up, one of them, a poet/grammarian named Philetas of Cos, allegedly died, in 270 BC, from insomnia he suffered from trying to figure out the liar’s paradox. While no one else has taken it quite that seriously, many, many serious articles and even a few books have been written about it. The quest to discover the truth seems to be hard wired into our DNA. Just as solidly as our effort to avoid telling it is. In spite of the extremely high value we claim to put on honesty, the truth is, we all live in a world of lies. Which is amazing, considering that just about everyone claims to be honest. “I’m a lot of things,” I’ve heard countless people say in one way or another all my life, “but a liar is not one of them.” Nobody wants to be thought of as a liar. As a matter of fact, calling someone a liar is about as good a way as any I know of to get yourself punched in the nose. We take our reputations for truthfulness very, very seriously. But we each get to define the term for ourselves, and not surprisingly, the misleading statements we utter never seem to fall within our definition of lying, no matter how egregious they may be. Part of the reason we get away with this is that there is no uniform agreement as to just what a lie is. We generally agree that a lie is an untruthful statement made to deceive others, but then we carve out exceptions, usually to

excuse the falsehoods we find it necessary to tell. What about telling children Santa Claus is watching them? Is that a lie? Or what about telling your mother-in-law how much you are looking forward to her weeklong visit next month? Surely that’s not true, but is it a lie? Or how about the dilemma everyone has faced at one time or another. You answer the phone, and as you pick it up, someone says, “Tell em I’m not here.” I’ll never forget one night many, many years ago when I was out at a business location helping to investigate a homicide. Several law enforcement officers were there, and so was a representative of the business. The phone rang. The business employee answered it and said, “Is there an Agent _ _ _ _ here?” “Agent _ _ _ _, a crusty old TBI officer with a cigar in his mouth, removed it and said, “Tell em I’m not here.” The employee paused. “Would you mind stepping just outside the door so I won’t be telling them a lie?” he asked. Everybody froze, waiting to hear the agent’s response. Begrudgingly, he opened the door and holding it open, stepped across the threshold, waiting. “I’m sorry,” the employee spoke into the phone. “He just left the building. Yes, I’ll tell him when he comes back.” As he hung up the phone, the agent stepped back into the room. The employee told him to call soinso and then left for another part of the building. But the lie he didn’t tell hung in the air for the rest of the evening, thicker even than the smoke from the agent’s cheap cigar.

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Calvin's Corner

By Calvin Carter, Staff Writer

From around the nation

A couple of years ago, an ex-girlfriend, along with my parents decided to chip in and purchase me a guitar for my birthday. The instrument came with a book full of songs, and a couple of free lessons from a guitar teacher. Jeff was his name. A local musician in his mid to late 30’s, Jeff had an easy aura about him, as if The Big Lebowski’s “The Dude” wasn’t just a character, but a way of life. The guy oozed “carefree” and slacker. Yet any idea of slackerdom disappeared whenever he started playing his guitar. Jeff could play anything just by hearing a song once. He could then map out the “musical architect” via guitar tabs or notes. While Jeff could play and teach just about anything, his favorite genre to mess with was of course metal. This of course meant a few things, namely that my first song to learn wasn’t going to be “Twinkle Twinkle Little Star.” Jeff asked what song would I like to learn how to play. Off the top of my head, I figured that he could teach me a Black Sabbath song. I don’t know why, but for some reason I suggested Black Sabbath’s “Iron Man.” Instead, Jeff introduced me to an era of

Black Sabbath that had Ronnie James Dio as their lead singer. The song he taught was “Heaven and Hell,” whose main riff didn’t hesitate to strike a chord with me. I was equally impressed with the vocal talent and delivery of Dio. You ask me what’s my favorite era of Black Sabbath, and I’ll immediately answer back with Dio. Sure Ozzy is of course much more popular and has been touted as an entertaining front man. But my money will always go towards Dio. In case you haven’t heard, Dio passed away last week. He was battling stomach cancer, and although showed initial signs of a full recovery, succumbed to it. I haven’t played my guitar in quite some time. But I’ve been getting an urge to at least strike a few of the chords of that particular song, my former teacher taught me just well…because why not? West Memphis I’m not going to express into great detail over the tragic shooting that happened recently. I will say that my prayers go out to the families of the slain officers in West Memphis. We take for granted the services of officers everyday. Just think that these

are men and women who have taken on the task of risking their lives just make sure our laws are upheld so that other lives aren’t lost. It was senseless and heartbreaking what happened to them. And I couldn’t even begin to imagine the pain their loved ones are experiencing right now. As I said, my prayers go out to them. I do hope that your prayers will go out to them as well. Oil Spill Not wanting to end this column on a sad note, I will point out something of notice that Haywood County should be proud of. An exchange club product, brainstormed by John Gallaspy, will help provide shirts and clothing to volunteers that have been dealing with the recent B.P. disaster oil spill. It was mentioned that a huge collection has been taken so far, thanks to residents in Haywood County. It’s always pleasant to see when a community comes together to help others. This is no exception. Let me sincerely say thank you Haywood County for continuing to renew my faith in humanity.


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