While on my many StumbleUpon stumbles, I came across a number of similar pages on “things to ponder”. These were pretty much a number of one-liners based on puns and technicalities. You know the kind of stuff, “What is the speed of dark” and the like. I think the people that thought these up believed themselves to be Steven Wright. Well, there was one in particular that annoyed me:

Tell a man that there are 400 billion stars and he’ll believe you. Tell him a bench has wet paint and he has to touch it.

Ah yes, we can all sense the truthiness in this one. You tell someone that paint is wet, yet they touch it to be sure. Yet somehow this implies that they are foolish for blindly believing there are 400 billion stars in the sky. Right.

It comes down to empiricism. Here our apocryphal man is presented with a statement that the paint is wet. He can verify this statement (or hypothesis, if you’ll permit the stretch) by touching the paint to find out it is indeed wet. For the second postulation (our “Stars in the Sky” hypothesis), he doesn’t have the luxury of a quick, convenient test for verification. Would those that make the supposedly ‘witty’ statement have the man wait until darkness fell, then look out his bedroom window, counting “1… 2… 3… 4” ?

Perhaps this man is foolish. Perhaps since I too believe current estimates of stars in the sky I am by extension also foolish. I believe other things I’m told, such as the existence of quarks, mesons, gluons and other subatomic particles. Should I invest in a supercollider and an education in particle physics to satisfy myself that yes, they do in fact exist?

Maybe I’ve missed the point. Maybe it was a subtle warning to ensure information has been verified – a stark warning to our current OMG TEH TERR’ISTS R CUMING! believe-anything society.

This is what happens when you have too much time on your hands because the trains are held up because of the ‘terror threat level’ being raised to maximum after a couple nutters drove a petrol-soaked car into an airport…