Dropping the (logic) bomb

My son Johnny (7) was asked a while back (by some feebly unimaginative adult) what he wanted to be when he grows up. “A normal person” was the reply. Fair enough. Not sufficiently deterred by that, the same adult persisted, enquiring what he’d like to do for a job. “What Dad does” was the reply. Good lad.

Actually, Johnny might well be very suitable – he may be borderline Asperger’s, which hasn’t exactly proved a millstone around the neck of a certain Mr William Henry Gates III (OK, no formal diagnosis on that one). More to the point, my little boy has a powerful intuitive grasp of logic already, as the following example should demonstrate.

Assume for a moment that you’re seven years old again, it’s almost time to leave for school and your shoes are nowhere to be found, not an entirely uncommon occurrence in the Grumpy household, if I’m honest. You have utterly no idea whatsoever where they are. Not a clue. They were presumably on your feet some time yesterday, but you can’t really be held responsible for what happened after you took them off, can you?

When presented with a theme park rollercoaster

When presented with a theme park rollercoaster...

Then your mother asks “Don’t you know where your shoes are?”

Pop quiz, Hotshot.

What do you do?

If you answer “Yes”, I’d say you’re showing some real signs of aptitude for programming. Mum, of course is going to be be nonplussed. For all her other sterling and wonderful qualities she’s always going to be the kind of person who centres text in Word through the heavy-handed application of the spacebar.

I’d assert that the answer has to be “yes”. After all, reversing the question to “Do you know where your shoes are?” has to receive the opposite answer. Were we to make the question more explicit, perhaps something like “Is it true that you don’t know where your shoes are?” then the answer is again obvious.

...a small boy has surprisingly little problem finding his shoes.

...a small boy has surprisingly little problem finding his shoes.

I’ve always struggled with these questions myself, having learned that people usually (but not always) expect the “wrong” answer. That brings in the necessity of attempting to work out which answer they’ll interpret as the one I want to give, which makes my head hurt. So I tend to provide the logically correct answer and then qualify it, which gets me an old-fashioned look but ensures that I’m less frequently misunderstood. “Yes, I don’t know where my shoes are”.

Spoken language is trickier, than most of us realise. It’s a reason why taking refuge in the rather less ambiguous world of code is often so comforting.

Note that I am substantially older than seven, have several pairs of shoes and know where most of them are most of the time.