Saturday, September 19, 2015

Science Saturday: Bombs and Choosing to Believe

The story about Ahmed Mohamed and his not-a-bomb clock that's blowing up right now touches just about every sensitive nerve ending I can still bear to leave out in the cruel unforgiving world: science, kids, education, race, etc.

I could either say a lot or a little, but I'm going to try to keep it to a little. To do that, I'm going to talk about beliefs.

Beliefs are a really interesting concept, philosophically, and there's been a lot of ink spilled on the nature of them. Among other things: how much are they related to volition? Can you choose to believe? Can you want, but be unable, to believe something? If you stop believing in something, did you ever really believe in the first place?

Forgive me, I couldn't resist.

How do beliefs tie into this? In a couple of ways. From the inside out: did the principal or any of the teachers believe that the not-a-bomb clock was a real bomb? That it was a hoax? How much were their beliefs shaped by the fact that it was a project by a brown kid named Ahmed Mouhammed?

The more interesting layer to this, however, is the trilemma (it's a dilemma, but with three!) left to me. There are three interpretations—three beliefs—about this story I can choose from:

1. The faculty at this school mistakenly thought this was a bomb, and they were doing what they thought best to protect the students.

Makezine broke this down for you to explain why this pencil case is not a bomb. Y'all know there'd have to be some explosives in there, right? Right.
2. The faculty at this school thought this was a hoax bomb, and they were doing what they thought best to protect the students and enforce whatever kind of zero-tolerance policy they have on "terrorist threats" or whatever.

3. The faculty at this school thought this was a hoax bomb and they decided to use this opportunity to pick on a kid named Ahmed who attends a school in Texas and looks like this:

Image courtesy Snopes

So, which one do I choose to believe? The first one is tempting and gives people the benefit of the doubt—"never attribute to malice what can be explained by stupidity" is a bit of a life motto—but the way they handled the situation made it clear that they knew it wasn't a bomb. I want to believe the first one, but there's just too much evidence stacked against it.

That leaves 2 and 3. Neither of those are good choices. Neither are things I want to believe about the world: that the people running it, from school principals to cops to mayors to future Presidents (knock on wood), are either ignorant enough to think that something that looks almost like a movie bomb could be a real bomb, or ignorant enough to think that Bill Maher's defense is at all rational or cogent

I don't want to believe.

No comments:

Post a Comment