The wrongness singularity

By Sean Carroll | May 5, 2006 7:29 am

The blogosphere has been having its fun with this little bit of instant punditry from Glenn Reynolds:

Of course, if we seized the Saudi and Iranian oil fields and ran the pumps full speed, oil prices would plummet, dictators would be broke, and poor nations would benefit from cheap energy. But we’d be called imperialist oppressors, then.

Far be it from me to add anything to the trenchant political analysis already available. But as a Physics Blog, we feel it’s our duty here to point out the exciting scientific consequences that our more humanistical friends have thus far missed: the possibility that Prof. Reynolds has discovered a new state of wrongness.

You see, wrongness is a fermionic property. That is to say, a statement is either wrong or it is not wrong; you can’t pile on the wrongness to make a condensate of wrong. By the conventional rules, n declarative statements can be wrong at most n times. By the Pauli exclusion principle, you just can’t be more wrong than that!

I count four declarative statements in Instapundit’s two sentences. (“… prices would plummet,” “dictators would be broke,” “poor nations would benefit,” “we’d be called imperialist oppressors.”) Now let’s count how many time he is wrong.

  • prices would plummet — No, they wouldn’t. As it turns out, the Saudi and Iranian oil fields are running at very close to full capacity; any increase would be at most a perturbation.
  • dictators would be broke — Not sure which dictators we’re talking about here — the ones we just deposed? In fact, dictators have shown a remarkable ability to not be broke even in countries without vast stores of oil wealth.
  • poor nations would benefit — Because it’s really the poor countries that guzzle oil? This one baffles me.
  • we’d be called imperialist oppressors — Now, in a strict sense this is not wrong. We would be called that. Because invading sovereign countries in order to take over their natural resources is more or less the definition of imperialist oppression. However, Reynolds’ implication is clearly that we should not be called imperialist oppressors, that it would somehow be unfair. Which is crazy. So can we count that as wrong? Yes!

So indeed we count four instances of wrongness in only four declarative statements — Fermi degeneracy! No more wrongness should be possible.

But as Tim Lambert points out, Instapundit managed to be wrong yet another time, by begging a question and then getting the wrong answer!

  • The subjunctive clause opening the first sentence cleverly slides from invading Saudi Arabia and Iran to running pumps at full speed. Actually not something that would happen in the reality-based world! As Tim says, “Yeah, because that’s pretty much the way it worked out in Iraq.”

So in fact, Reynolds has managed to fit five units of wrongness into only four declarative statements! This is the hackular equivalent of crossing the Chandrasekhar Limit, at which point your blog cannot help but collapse in on itself. It is unknown at this point whether the resulting end state will be an intermediate neutron-blog phase, or whether the collapse will proceed all the way to a singularity surrounded by a black hole event horizon. We may have to wait for the neutrino signal to be sure.


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About Sean Carroll

Sean Carroll is a Senior Research Associate in the Department of Physics at the California Institute of Technology. His research interests include theoretical aspects of cosmology, field theory, and gravitation. His most recent book is The Particle at the End of the Universe, about the Large Hadron Collider and the search for the Higgs boson. Here are some of his favorite blog posts, home page, and email: carroll [at] .


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