Maybe I’m just too dumb or too pedantic for social media

Thom descends into a rabbit hole of analytical semantics with a silly Facebook logic game

For Your Consideration

I shouldn’t play silly Facebook logic games.

Last weekend I saw this:

“If you get this, you are a critical thinker. I enter a bedroom. There are 34 people. You kill 30. Now, how many are in the bedroom?

A normal person would make a guess, find out if they’re right or wrong and move on. I, on the other hand, descend into an analytical rabbit hole of dissecting every word, spend far too much time on it and end up deciding it is a problem that does not have a correct answer and even write a column about it.

This problem reminds me of the scene in the movie My Cousin Vinny in which the prosecutor tries tripping up the defence’s expert witness (Mona Lisa Vito) by asking her what the correct ignition timing be on a 1955 Bellaire Chevrolet with a 327 cubic inch engine and a four-barrel carburetor.

As she points out, it’s an unanswerable question because “Chevy didn’t make a 327 in ‘55. The 327 didn’t come out til ‘62. And it wasn’t offered in the Bellaire with the four-barrel carburetor til ‘64. However, in 1964 the correct ignition timing would be four degrees before top dead centre.”

In the case of our Facebook meme, the trick part of the question is the poster says, “I” enter a bedroom, but then says “you” kill 30.”

If you don’t catch that, you’re done, but even if you do catch it, the rest of the problem is because the premises are too non-specific.

Let’s break it down, critically, shall we?

The person posting the problem enters a bedroom.

There are 34 people. Where? In the bedroom? Before or after she enters?

You, meaning the reader of the post (i.e., me), kill 30. Thirty what? People? People in the bedroom? Do I kill them from within the bedroom or from outside the bedroom?

Then, there is the philosophical conundrum. Are dead people still people? We call them dead people, but really at this point aren’t they just corpses? Depends on your point of view on what defines personhood, I guess.

As Miss Vito would say, “It’s impossible to answer.”

Well, impossible without making a bunch of assumptions.

Assuming there are 34 people in the bedroom after she enters and assuming I was among the 33 already in the bedroom when she entered and assuming I killed 3o of the people in the bedroom, then the answer is either four or 34 depending on where you land on the philosophical question.

Unfortunately, once you decide on an answer, you never find out if you’re right or wrong because the poster either says ‘no, try again’ if you get a different answer than what they were told is correct or deletes your answer without an explanation of why they think you are wrong.

I shouldn’t play silly Facebook logic games.

The bottom line is, the first line of the problem should not be ‘you are not a critical thinker if you get the answer to this question,’ it should be ‘you’re a critical thinker if you don’t get the question.’

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