/ Semiotics /
When you read an account of something, by what standards do you appraise its accuracy? God gave Moses his Commandments to pass on to the Jews? Sherman burned his way to Atlanta? Bush won such-and-such a percentage of the vote? Who’s telling the story? How do they know?
One morning in college, Columbia, John Jay Hall, a single on the seventh floor, I opened my door to go a couple of further doors down the hall to the bathroom, and tripped over a New York Times, freshly printed, lying where a door mat might have been on other doors. I looked down the hall. I hadn’t ordered it. I had no paper-reading habit, the Times or any paper. Every door (except the bathroom) had a paper, sparkling white paper, crisp black ink. “Titanic sinks!” the headline told me. I continued on my journey to the pissoir, picked the paper up on my return. I glanced at an article or two: the mayor this, the bank that. Then I read the Titanic sub-header. Then I glanced at the paper’s date: April 1912: mid-April, the 15th or so. Ugh … I thought. That can’t be right.
My advisor, Professor Andrew Chiappe, had insulted me a day or two before: I had to fill out a form, the form asked for the date, I didn’t know the date. I asked Chiappe, he pointed to a calendar on the wall, the calendar displayed January, February, March 1957. Yeah, but what was the date? I hadn’t a clue. I would have needed to know the month, or at least the day of the week to have been able to process the build-in clues. But even I sensed once back in my dorm room with the Times that it wasn’t 1912. And it wasn’t April either. In fact, wasn’t the Titanic sinking old news? Hard for me to tell. I don’t live in this world, I never have. But it dawned additionally on me that that mayor wasn’t this mayor, that that bank hadn’t been in business since the 1920s. The Times was giving classic issues away as a promotion. The Times assumed that a Columbia student in 1957 would know that it wasn’t 1912.
Thus far the first paragraph above is the only one that comes close to dealing with what I’d intended; but I’m enjoying the Titanic headline memory: so I’ll keep it for the moment. But I gotta go clear my head, start over, get to the point:
Had we access to a Judgment by a true God, if information of perfect accuracy were about to be presented to us, what shadow would then be cast over information we’ve trusted as accurate? The Bible? School texts? History books?
Would we judge the Times to be 99% “true”? or 49% true? Less than 10% true?
You could follow suit from Chiappe in making fun of me for seldom knowing the date, but would how you rate other things I’ve said? Would you now think my accuracy was better than 02%? … 30%? 40%?
As you ceased believing the Times would you start believing Hawking? 99%? Or would he too fall off embarrassingly?