When the news broke on Thursday that the New York grand jury indicted Trump, my first thought was to praise Fortuna for her good timing (the column deadline is 9 a.m. on Friday).
Of course, there’s almost nothing to say about it yet. The indictment has yet to be unsealed, there has to be an arraignment … oh boy, but I have to wait (). There’s going to have to be a discussion with the judge about setting bail. I’m sure Trump will do all right by that. He’s not a flight risk. Where would he go? Moscow? He’d need warmer clothes.
The timing reminds me of one of my favorite math puzzles. A teacher has a class that meets on weekdays. He tells the students on a Friday there will be a pop quiz one day the following week but insists the students will be completely surprised by the day it happens.
The students discuss it amongst themselves. One figures the teacher can’t wait until Friday, because by then they’ll know that will be the day — it won’t be a surprise. Then someone says, for the same reason, it can’t be on Thursday, either. Then they figure it can’t be on Wednesday, and then it can’t be on Tuesday, then, it can’t be on Monday. The first student is elected to explain to the teacher there can’t ever be such a surprise test. He tells him on Monday, laying out all the reasons. The teacher says, “Yes, there can.”
On Wednesday, he gives them a pop quiz, and everyone is surprised. What went wrong with their reasoning? This is actually an amazingly controversial puzzle. I probably hold the minority view. The state of surprise is not a mathematical either/or state and is at best fuzzy. Also, the whole analysis assumes the character of the teacher is that of a reliable truth-teller, which is unjustified. Teachers aren’t omniscient, generally. Also they have legal privileges to be sneaky and tricksy, up to a point. The lie in this case wouldn’t be actionable. The students couldn’t establish that a harm was done.
So, Trump wasn’t indicted the day he predicted he would be. Surprise! He’ll presumably say he knew it all along. He knew he couldn’t trust the grand jury to obey the laws of perfect Trump-thinking. They are so irrational and so far from being the genius he is. They probably decided to indict based on a roll of dice. “Besides, being indicted is no big deal. Do you know how many times I’ve been sued?”
By the way, here’s a hot math tip. A lot of math puzzles assume a flawless narrator or truth-telling character. You can use this to blow up paradoxes. So, the narrator says the barber shaves everyone who doesn’t shave himself? He’s either lying or he just doesn’t know — end of paradox. This can also be applied to Pascal’s Wager. Blaise Pascal is a fraud. His wager isn’t based on reliable information. The calculation is bogus. I can continue to praise Fortuna and continue to feel safe from divine retribution. Until there’s a surprise.
While we’re on the subject of math and math-like puzzles, here’s another favorite question: If the universe is infinite, doesn’t that mean that everything happens infinitely often, and there must be infinitely many versions of me in the universe?
A. Oh, you sweet precious child. Not of you. Maybe protoplasm.
What if creation required infinitely many monkeys, each with infinite time? Would they ever create a human? Oh, wait. Never mind.
Some of these questions remind me of Andy Rooney. “Why is the eraser at the wrong end of the pencil? It should be at the end where the mistakes happen.” “Why don’t pens have erasers at all? The mistakes are worse.” My advice is not to overthink any of this. Save your neurons for finding food and shelter while avoiding predators. Have you been working diligently on your spear flinging skills? Do. You know, monkeys don’t fall out of trees by themselves.
Do you think Trump could pass the Turing test? I don’t. But some people are now saying ChatGPT has passed the threshold and can’t be distinguished from a human in conversation. I’m skeptical, but then I don’t think many humans pass either.
In Trump’s case, it’s just ethical incompetence.
Dr. Wes is the Real Change Circulation Specialist, but, in addition to his skills with a spreadsheet, he writes this weekly column about whatever recent going-ons caught his attention. Dr. Wes has contributed to the paper since 1994. Curious about his process or have a response to one of his columns? Connect with him at [email protected].
Read more of the Apr. 5-11, 2023 issue.