Did you know that broccoli can help support the hypothesis that all pigs fly? Or even that all horses do the hokey pokey? Well it’s true! With the magic of Hempel’s Paradox (also known as the Raven Paradox) pretty much any theory can be supported. And “supported” is the key term here, because obviously, you can’t prove anything with broccoli (as far as I know), but that’s beside the point…
So how does this work? Well, there are a lot of complicated formulas and technical terms involved, but basically it all boils down to this:
You first need a hypothesis to work with. Hempel went with:
1 – All ravens are black.
Logically, this statement would then be equivalent to:
2 – Everything that is not black is not a raven.
Makes sense, right? Okay from here, we can surmise that every time we see a black raven, we are gaining evidence to support statement #1. Of course, that also means that every time we see something that is not black and is not a raven, we are gaining evidence to support statement #2. For example, that object is red (i.e. not black) and is an apple (i.e. not a raven), therefore it is evidence supporting “Everything that is not black is not a raven”. Since statement #1 and #2 are equivalent, seeing a red apple supports the hypothesis “All ravens are black”. You with me so far?
Okay, so herein lies the paradox, my friends. What we’re saying is that we can gain information about ravens, by looking at apples… You can see the problem with that, right? That’s what makes this paradox so fun!
Now comes the really, really fun part! Let’s use a new hypothesis:
1 – All pigs fly.
Therefore, following the same formula as before:
2 – Everything that does not fly is not a pig. Right?
Even if you never see a flying pig to support statement #1 (you never know, though…), for every object you see that is not flying and is not a pig, such as broccoli, you are gaining evidence supporting the statement “Everything that does not fly is not a pig”.
Of course, there is the problem that every time you do see a pig and it’s not flying (which is usually the case, I would think), you gain some evidence against “All pigs fly”. However the beauty of this paradox lies in the fact that there are FAR more objects (broccoli, rocks, trees, Justin Bieber, etc.) that aren’t pigs that aren’t flying to support statement #2. So, if you were to weigh all the evidence for and against your hypothesis on a scale,
that scale would be heavily tipped in favor of statement #2, which, as we’ve noted is equivalent to statement #1, which then means, dear readers, that you technically have evidence to support the theory that pigs fly!
Of course, as I mentioned earlier, broccoli will never actually prove that pigs fly, but I find it hilarious that it can be used as logical evidence towards it, even though it goes against all common sense.
What’s even funnier is that this can be used for other great hypotheses, such as all dogs are made of candy, all tables are time machines or even… all pencils are the ghost of Elvis.
So, now that I’ve shared this great concept with you, and if you’ve managed to understand my terrible attempt at explaining it, you may go out into the world knowing that the gum that you’ve stepped in actually supports your theory that all cats are ninjas…