Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Any Proof is NOT Proof

We all ask for proofs. But many of us don't verify the proof.

I'll try to prove that 2=1

a = 1
b = 1
a = b
a2 = b2
a2 - b2 = 0
(a-b)(a+b) = 0
(a-b)(a+b)/(a-b) = 0/(a-b)
1(a+b) = 0
(a+b) = 0
1 + 1 = 0
2 = 0
1 = 0
1 + 1 = 1
2=1  (yay!!!)

Why is it that despite many 'proofs' lying around telling us 2=1 we know that 2 is not equal to one?
Because all the proofs to 2=1 will have some sort of mathematical fallacy in them, like dividing both sides by zero, and knowing that 2=1 is absolutely wrong propels us to try our best in finding how the proof is flawed. Either we find the flaw on our own or we search the internet.

But what about conclusions that aren't obviously false? In these cases anyone with a clear head will try and discover the truth. Those who are undergoing emotional stress cannot and will not.

Assertion: Sai Baba is God.
Reason: Sai Baba does miracles.
Here believers who believe no one in flesh and blood can be God will disbelieve the assertion and therefore discover how the miracles that Sai Baba performs are trivial compared to Criss Angel's Mindfreak
But some believers who just want to buy more crap will instantly make the connection. Miracles = God! They won't wait to verify whether the 'miracles' are magic or not.

Now what will happen when the conclusions are even more convincing? Almost all people will fall, despite how good they were in finding flaws in other claims.

Assertion: Sai Baba is good.
Reason: He does charitable work.
Here the reason seems flawless because everybody can see those super specialty hospitals where treatment is free, those schools, etc. And so, everyone agrees with the assertion.
But what we forget is to see what share of Sai Baba's income actually goes into philanthropy. There is no possible way for me to know that. Searching online only brings up pages like this which suggests that a huge share of his income goes into his castle building activities. And despite knowing how to use a website the Sai Trust has not published its income expenditure details online. Well, I wonder if they have published it offline either because as far as I know they're not required to!
When such a thing happens where the proof is questionable, what I do is to look for clues.
#1) Had they been donating >80% of their income like some outsiders claim, they would gladly publish the details of their income and expenditure considering how hungry they're in trying to convince people.
#2) They're not honest. The very claim of miraculous powers prove the converse.
#3) APJ Abdul Kalam sang praise. (All other big names are politicians, etc whom I need not consider) The missile man of India is widely respected. He has got several honorary doctorates (some 37 of them, the last time somebody counted). But that doesn't immunize him against falling for frauds (Pardon me, it alliterated) And there are other big names who have been silent if not fighting against Sai Baba.
Based on these I would say the assertion that Sai Baba is good cannot be proved  with the reason stated.

Putting aside Sai Baba for later, let us focus on how to develop a safe approach towards believing claims. What I have tested and trusted is to start with the assumption that every assertion is false and that all proofs are flawed somewhere. Now, when we try to find that flaw, we may even validate the claim.

And the internet is your friend in that. Because someone might have already taken the pain to debunk this new fat claim you got as an email forward. All you got to do is verify whether the debunking is rational. Wikipedia, though it is criticized by many to be easily manipulated, is the best help in that regard because without a proper source nothing stays there. (All you must do is to read the sources/references/citations)

And this is applicable to everything - god men, fund raisers, urban legends, etc.

All that glitters is not gold.

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