Did You Know That If You Fold A $20 Bill…?!?!

Last Christmas, as a part of my holiday reading, I read the Warren Commission Report. That’s because there’s nothing that says season’s greetings quite like reading about the Kennedy Assassination. Although it pretty much kills the joy of Christmas, it’s utterly fascinating to read about how Oswald single-handedly planned and executed the murder of our 35th president. Maybe execute is a wrong choice of words. Now, I was reading the Warren Commission Report, not only because I thought it would make for interesting reading ( it did), but also because I’m also a conspiracy theory nut. All the while I was reading, I was thinking about the various theories (some more plausible than others) about the Kennedy Assassination. There are a couple of problems, though. I think that with a few of them, the plots to kill the president are so expansive that a person would discover that every American who was living at the time played a part in the assassination. It made me feel sorry for the President. It’s like everyone else was in on a joke and didn’t tell him. One hell of a punchline, though. Since I’ve vowed that I will never pay for anything that I can see for free on the internet, I was watching one of our more popular 9/11 conspiracy theory flicks. I’m not going to say exactly what the movie was, only that to say that the title sounded a little like Loose Change. I was watching, and really trying (hard) to believe what they were saying. But somehow, the philosopher inside me got the better of me and I started thinking “Ockham’s Razor”. I started thinking all sorts of crazy thoughts like ‘this really seems a little far-fetched’ and ‘wow, if this goes as deep as they say, I think that I might be an Illuminati!’. This not the way to think when you’re being told that World Trade 7 ws brought down by way of controlled demolition (I’m not saying that it wasn’t). But when your list of conspiritors includes the Tri-Lateral Commission, Council on Foreign Relations, the Illuminati, the Freemasons, Bohemian Grove, half the cast from The Real World season 5, and the Jolly Green Giant, your conspiracies tend to get a little… top heavy. William of Ockham, for which Ockham’s Razor is named, stated that, when we are to choose between competing theories (to explain scientific or philosophical claims or theories), that the simplier of the two theories is the one to be preferred. The point of Ockham’s sentiment is that we need not, when we are in the business of explaining a given phenomena, cast our nets too broadly and pull in more theories or entities than we need. (Those who agree with Quine’s need for “desert landscapes” most certainly appreciate this sentiment). And conspiracy theories are literally a slum (to use Quine again) of any manifestation and/or conjunction of evildoers than anyone with an active imagination can think of. Although Ockham’s Razor is more a rule of thumb than a hard metaphysical claim (it merely suggests that we consider the simplest solution first, and does not rule out the possibility that a more complex theory may be the answer), it is important to know that there is such a thing as a theory becoming so complex that it collapses under its own weight. Unfortunately, those who peddle conspiracies tend to neglect this point. There is such a thing as a conspiracy becoming too big. When your conspiracy about events that happened 7 and a half years ago involve things that happened seven hundred years ago (and involves nearly as many people), it might be time to (at least) tidy up your theory. Which brings me to another point. While I’m slamming conspiracy theories (and I’m not saying that they don’t happen), I realized that there is a particular tactic that conspiracy theorists use to “win” arguments. This is one that I learned in poly sci: argumentum ad ignorantiam. This is how you play this one: I tell you that there was no plane that hit the Pentagon. You disagree. I say prove that there wasn’t . You say there’s a big hole in the side of the building– you’re guessing plane-sized. I say, so? where’s the plane parts — don’t see ’em, do ya? You say, well, no. Ah-ha! I proclaim. I won. You’re stupid and a puppet of the New World Order! What did I just do? Obviously I didn’t actually win any argument. I didn’t need to. The fact that you couldn’t conjure up any evidence to prove me wrong meant that I was right. Argumentum ad ignorantiam. It’s like saying that aliens bulit the pyramids. I ask you to prove that I’m wrong. Can you? Exactamundo! I know that, by saying this, that I’m probably not going to be asked to guest on Coast to Coast anytime soon, but to satisfy the screaming philosopher in my head, I had to say something. I guess I’ll go turn in my foil hat now.

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