Other writings     Drawings gallery

A Majority of Gawkers are Unable to Comprehend Percentages

Sunday, September 25th, 2011
Logo of website gawker.com, for use in article...

Image via Wikipedia

There’s this post over at Gawker with the shocking headline “A Majority of Icelanders Believe in the Existence of Elves.” What is the basis for this outrageous claim? Why, this study reported on Iceland Review, of course, which found that only 8% of Icelanders believe that elves definitely exist.

I must have skipped one too many math-classes in school and missed the one about 8% constituting a majority. Even if you add the amount of people, who believe in the likelihood of elves to the ones believing they definitely exist, that still only makes 25%

Gawker must have misread, right? The following, however, is part of their direct quote:

Only 13 percent of participants in the study said it is impossible that elves exist, 19 percent found it unlikely, 37 percent said elves possibly exist, 17 percent found their existence likely and eight percent definite. Five percent did not have an opinion on the existence of elves.

What the Hell, Gawker? Didn’t you even read what you were quoting? Okay, let’s be charitable. It’s true that a majority of Icelanders (62% > 50%, see how that works?) believe the existence of elves is at the very least possible. That’s fine. So what? So do I. Since elves aren’t, to my knowledge, logically self-contradictory there is a possible world at which elves exist. It might even be very close to ours.

I don’t really understand the questionnaire placing “possibility” between “unlikelihood” and “likelihood.” Unless the likelihood of something is either zero or one, it has no bearing whatsoever on the possibility of said something. Perhaps the researchers intended “possibility” in a more colloquial sense, but if so then they can hardly lament ambiguity in their results. In any case a majority believing in the possibility (no matter the sense) of something isn’t exactly sensational.

Spacetime Worms

Saturday, May 15th, 2010

Except for the occasional sceptic, we all believe that things persist through time (Loux, Readings, p. 321).

Endurantism and perdurantism are the views that temporal persistence of a thing is respectively explained either by its existing wholly and completely at different times or by its having three-dimensional parts at different times, which constitute a four-dimensional whole – or ‘spacetime worm.’ Since these two views usually arise from two different temporal ontologies, namely that of presentism – only the present exists – and eternalism – time is a dimension on par with the spatial dimensions – I shall treat endurantism and perdurantism as interchangeable with their intuitively corresponding ontologies.

Since I am torn on this issue rather than trying to convince the reader I shall devote this essay on an analysis of why perdurantism, which is the view to which I lean the most, appeals to me but why I am still hesitant to embrace it fully.

Scientific Considerations

I should be a perdurantist because I believe that GPS is reliable and that the universe is approximately 13.7 billion years old. The connection to persistence is not immediately obvious. However, both beliefs are reliant on Einstein’s theories of relativity. In his book, Parallel Worlds, Michio Kaku explains how crucial relativity is to the reliability of GPS.

Michio Kaku

…in order to guarantee such incredible accuracy, scientists must calculate slight corrections to Newton’s laws due to relativity, which states that radio waves will be slightly

shifted in frequency as satellites soar in outer space. In fact, if we foolishly discard the corrections due to relativity, then the GPS clocks will run faster each day by 40,000 billions of a second, and the entire system will become unreliable (p. 257).