Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Pirates and the Liar's Paradox

A few weeks ago I visited Munsey Park School in Manhasset, NY, and spoke with a number of classes about FISH and the writing process. When I was talking to a group of second-graders, one of the kids caught on early that I have a tendency to embellish when telling stories. I'd been talking about my journalism (all true stuff) and my fiction (mostly invented). So he raises his hand, I stop, and he asks, "Was what you just said true?"

I'd been talking about sitting in a flying car, but I wasn't making it up. I wrote about the car, Terrafugia's Transition, which is really a drivable plane, in Popular Science. I explain this to the inquisitive kid, then add a qualifier, noting that I do often make things up.

"So how do we know what's true?" he asks.

"You can ask me," I answer, "but you shouldn't trust my answer, because I've already said that I make things up." He looks at me strangely, and then I get carried away. "You've actually brought up a really interesting and famous philosophical question known as the liar's paradox....."

The teacher laughed slightly, I went on for a moment more, and then quickly returned to stories of sword fights, treasure hunts, and smelly rogues.

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