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“Nonsense!!” • May 16, 2006

And boy is there a lot of nonsense!

I have a really good friend, (she’s a DNA,) that is always telling me that I think EVERYTHING is nonsense!  That is, that “the Meredith” doesn’t “believe” anything!  She’s a good friend — but she’s totally wrong!  Or maybe on second thought, she’s only half wrong.  That is, I don’t think everything is nonsense — but, yes, I don’t “believe” anything.

What I mean is that I don’t “believe” anything is true.  It is either demonstrably true, demonstrably false, or else it’s still undecided.  A “belief” is a fancy word for an opinion — it doesn’t carry one iota of demonstrable truth.  It might be true — it might be false — it might be undecided — but just because someone or “everyone” believes it to be true doesn’t prove it is true, (or false or whatever!)

For example, “everyone” knows that chocolate contains caffeine — except “everyone” is wrong.  And that’s not my opinion — that is something that is easily demonstrated to be wrong.  Take your favorite candy bar and do a chemical analysis on it and you won’t find any caffeine!  NONE!!  You don’t need to “believe” whether chocolate has or doesn’t have caffeine — given the resources of a college chemistry lab you can find out absolutely positively the truth of the matter.  You can go a step further and look at the enzymes in the cocoa plant and you will find that the stuff for making caffeine isn’t there.  It’s as impossible for the cocoa plant to make caffeine.  It’s just as likely for the cocoa plant to make caffeine as it is for your dog to make kittens!  It can’t happen.

So — does that mean that I never “believe” anything that I have not personally verified? (And yes, I personally did the chocolate analysis back in college — no caffeine!) And the answer is, no — I don’t necessarily have to personally verify it to know if it is true.  I can determine probably “truth” by how well the assertion fits in with things I HAVE personally verified.

Let’s take an example from mathematics to see how this works.  Suppose someone told me that the first prime number with more than 10,000,000 digits had been identified.  I’d say, “That’s cool!” and “believe” you, (that is, give the statement a high degree of likelihood of being correct,) because it fits in very well with prior knowledge.  The current largest prime at the moment I’m writing this is about 9,800,000 or so digits.  The Great Internet Mersenne Prime Search is rolling away on the web and it’s just a matter of time before all those computers finds one a little larger.  You can check it out here:

Great Internet Mersenne Prime search

I’m very familiar with Mersenne primes, I’m familiar with the routines used to find them, and in fact, I’ve got a couple of older computers at the office that are “participating” in the search.  (The Electronic Frontier Foundation is offering a $100,000 prize to whoever finds the first 10,000,000+ digit prime!!  That REALLY gets my attention!!)

So — I’d assume the statement is correct, at least until I can get over to the Prime search web site.  But if someone asked me if it was true, I say extremely likely, but I wouldn’t say it absolutely.  It’s not a question of whether I trust the person that told me about it, it’s that I “trust” the information because it fits so well with things I have personally verified.

Let’s take another example — the same person tells me that they just found a 20,000,000 digit prime!  My mouth is gonna hit the floor, I’m gonna check them for alcohol on the breath, and while I’m not going to say it’s impossible, I’m going to say it is VERY, VERY improbable!!  As fast as I could do it, I’d be heading to the web site, looking at the results, looking at the algorithms again, and I’m still gonna be skeptical until I can download the “alleged” prime and let some office computers grind away for months to demonstrate that it is indeed a 20,000,000 digit prime!

The first example fits very well with prior demonstrated knowledge.  The second is “possible” based on prior knowledge, but very improbable!  So improbably that I’m going to need extremely compelling proof before I’ll believe that it is true.

Let’s take one more example — the same person again says that they have stopped the on-line prime search because the largest prime has been found and there is nothing else to search for.  This revelation is going to be greeted with a resounding, “Nonsense!” because I KNOW it can’t be true!  Not only doesn’t it fit well with prior knowledge, but as an exercise in algebra, I’ve had to prove that there is NO LARGEST PRIME!  Not only did I prove it, but the original proof is a couple of thousand years old!  It doesn’t matter if seventy-four Einsteins guarantee it’s true, I personally have proved it’s false — and anyone that took algebra has probably done so, also!  If you send me a proof that you’ve found the largest prime, I’m not going to even look at it — it’s nonsense and I’ve got better thing to do with my time than look for the error that is absolutely there!!

The only thing I’m ABSOLUTELY sure of is that my friend is gonna continue to think I’m unreasonable and do not have an open mind.  I’ve got a VERY OPEN MIND, but I don’t fill it up with NONSENSE!!



PS — You can check out the “No Largest Prime Proof” at:

No Largest Prime Proof

And if that link is gone, just do a search on “No Largest Prime Proof.”

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Last Updated: May 2006

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