The “false” documents

I read something today that captured my eye.

An adroit observer on Yahoo noted that, had it not been for the rather inept way the letters were (apparently) forged, we might have never known them to be false.

Interesting. The observer continued: ” Would these documents have been considered authentic had their been no blunders in word processing or in terminology (interestingly enough, they still have not been proven false, merely unconfirmable)?”

This begs the question, as we travel the highways and the byways of the internet, and this new “(dis)information age.” Are we now seeing the beginnings of what sci-fi has predicted for so long? Are we entering an era when Truth can no longer be shown through documentation?

If anyone remembers the episode from Star Trek TOS (The “original show”) where a crewmember attempts to get even with Capt Kirk, the most interesting aspect of the show in my mind has always been the idea that someone can falsify a visual record, in this case, a video recording, to portray something that never happened. With the digital age, and the computer animations we have seen ever since Forest Gump, we may be entering an age of true situational relativism and truth.

Wittgenstein opened the debate when he first proposed the “problem of induction.” That, simply put, says that we can never actually prove anything to be true by induction since we cannot possibly perceive “all instances” of anything. The classic example is the statement “All swans are white.” Until you have viewed all swans, this statement cannot be proven true, and in fact, until you have seen all sides of all swans, you cannot know that all swans are “all white.”

The next step goes even further. You cannot accept that which you yourself have not perceived, so unless it is you that has perceived the swans, you cannot make any statements of knowledge, or truth, whatsoever.

Professor Karl Popper answered this with his concept of “falsifiability”–a concept familiar to anyone who has taken a (properly taught) statistics course. Harken back to your intro to stats, and remember if you will, you can never “prove” the hypothesis. You can disprove, or fail to disprove. That is Popper’s legacy (in a tiny, tiny nutshell.)

Perhaps we are entering a new era. An era where the media, the bastions, nay the defenders of truth, cannot be trusted. In this instance they cannot be trusted to check their facts. Then again, is that actually what happened?

Where you there? Can you “know” what happened?

Homework: Determine for yourself if “truth” is a certainty. Please–share your views. We all grow through these thought exercises.


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