Sunday, April 26, 2020

Schrödinger's fat

When truth is in limbo, all you can rely on are your senses and your ability to reason. Take the current question of whether Kim Jong-un, leader of North Korea, is dead. The NK government will do what it can—if KJU really is dead—to keep that fact from coming to light anytime soon. This is precisely what the Chinese government did for the first few weeks of the COVID-19 outbreak: hide the truth, obfuscate, and thereby prevent others from acting.

When Osama bin Laden was declared killed, the American public wasn't given any concrete evidence of bin Laden's death. We heard about a burial at sea, but we saw no pictures of the body, which was fodder for the tinfoil-hat conspiracy theorists to declare that Osama must be alive. But over the years since bin Laden's death, we've seen and heard nothing to indicate that the al-Qaeda leader is alive. This makes it rational to conclude that bin Laden is indeed dead. The dead don't make ripples when it comes to current events.

Biblical scholars who argue for the existence of Jesus of Nazareth use a similar logic: a first-century movement very obviously started, so there had to have been something or someone who acted as the catalyst, as the generative force, for that movement. As one of my theology professors put it, it's a bit like reasoning backward in time upon seeing the trajectory of a rocket: you can trace the rocket's path backward to when and where it was launched, and for the rocket to be in flight now, it had to have been launched then and there. Early Christianity spread quite rapidly along the rim of the Mediterranean; if you reason backward in time, you end up in the Nazareth/Galilee region. True, there is no actual direct evidence that Jesus even existed: we have no bones, no hair, no clothing, no documents written by his hand. The Bible offers one spooky passage in which Jesus uses a finger to write something on the ground before he picks himself up and takes on the question of an adulterous woman (John 8:3-11). If, in our search for evidence of Jesus' existence, we narrow our focus to 28 CE, then we're not left with much to work with. But the globe-spanning movement that arose after Jesus' time can, like the Big Bang, be traced back in time to something, and while that something doesn't qualify as solid evidence that Jesus existed, it is, at least, evidence in favor of Jesus' existence. People make ripples through spacetime; we all leave some sort of historical footprint.

So how can we know Kim Jong-un is in fact dead? Pretty much the same way we used reason and empirical evidence to speculate about Osama bin Laden. Bin Laden was thought to be dead several times, but on occasion, videos of him would surface that showed him talking about certain current events. This allowed experts to determine approximately when those videos had been made, and when that footage was matched up in the timeline against claims of bin Laden's death, we could retroactively determine whether Osama might have been dead at the time he was claimed to be dead. So it goes with KJU: if his public appearances stop completely, and if no videos surface that show him talking about current events, we'll have a pretty good idea that he's dead.* And if years pass, and he still hasn't surfaced, then as with Osama, we'll know almost certainly that Kim is gone for good. Of course, North Korea could save us the trouble by announcing KJU's death in a fit of public weeping and wailing, with blubbering newscasters and a flailing, writhing crowd of onlookers who are forced to assemble and look miserable for the world's benefit.

Meanwhile, Kim Jong-un exists in a Schrödingerian state of uncertainty: he's dead/alive until someone makes the truth public, thereby collapsing the probabilistic wave function and reducing Kim's ontological status to one side of a binary either/or situation.

*Deepfake videos have come into prominence since bin Laden's time, so yes, it's possible that North Korea could extend the charade a lot longer by using tantalizingly grainy Deepfakes to make the world think the Dumpling Tyrant was still alive. But Deepfake technology isn't quite at the point where faked videos are airtight, so using Deepfakes would be risky.

ADDENDUM: Styx is also in a Schrödinger frame of mind.

ADDENDUM 2: TMZ (which no one should ever trust) is pushing the Kim-is-dead narrative. It'll be hilarious if all these crank news sites (including CNN) turn out to be right.

No comments: