Ukpeh, Sifon

May 26, 2021

8.“To what extent is certainty attainable”

Object 1: Hubble Space Telescope

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The Hubble Space Telescope (HST) was built by NASA and launched into low earth orbit in 1990. It is currently the most powerful telescope in the world, meaning that it is relied on and valued as the best source of accurate and precise data collected from space telescopes.

This telescope is very interesting for this exhibition because it is used for space observation, which is generally hard to do from a distance. The greater the distance between the observer and the object being observed, the longer it takes for the light reflected off that object to reach the observer, for example it takes 8 minutes for light from the sun to reach the space telescope, so the sun we see through it is from 8 minutes ago. As science writer Timothy Ferris said “Everything we see in the sky belongs to the past”2. This applies to the HST, even though it can see 10-15 billion light years away, it is still seeing 10-15 billion years ago, so what we see is certainly what has happened, but it is far from the present reality. Therefore, we have no way of knowing for certain what is happening in deep space right now unless it is flung right in front of us.

The telescope also enriches this exhibition because of its label, ‘The most powerful telescope in the world’. Currently NASA is building the Giant Magellan Telescope (GMT) which will be 10 times stronger than the HST. For 30 years now the HST has been the planets most trustworthy telescope. It may see the past, but it gives a clear picture of what has happened at the far reaches of space. If the GMT will be 10 times stronger, then we cannot be certain if any image that HST has taken is even close to clear, or if the GMT will give the true picture either because there will be a telescope 10 times stronger. We have no way of knowing if we have attained certainty.

Object 2: A Washington Post Article

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This article was uploaded by the Washington Post on the 4th of January 2021 and claimed that the newspaper had acquired a recording of a conversation Donald trump had with the Georgia secretary of state. This however was not true, and their information had been gotten from a source. When the original recording was found it was revealed that the Post had wrongly quoted the then President.

This article contributes to the exhibition because the revelation that the original article was wrong was revealed by the post themselves, and the article was revised, but it had been 3 months, so no one really cared, and the revised story did not reach many of its original readers. Additionally, if the post had decided to withhold the fact that the original article contained false information, the public would have been certain that the false quotes were trumps exact words for years to come. It was up to them whether the public knew the truth or not. This highlights how easy it is for the media control what we believe to be certain.

This article also adds to this exhibition because it raises the issue of trust. This time around, the original quotes, even though false still ran with the general idea that Trump had called Georgia’s Secretary of State to attempt to influence the work of Georgia’s elections investigators. But if the story published had strayed much farther from the truth, people would have still believed it because it came from a big news service, that has gained people’s trust, the Washington Post. This shows just how hard it is to be certain of information gotten from the internet. It also questions the certainty of other Post articles. Since the post outright lied about its sources on a story involving someone as important as the President of the United States, we cannot be completely certain that they have not and will not do it again.

Object 3: A video clip of a BTS live stream

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This is clip from a BTS livestream on Vlive from 2019. A comment left by a fan that was translated from another language to Korean was read out, it was supposed to say, ‘are you excited to go back to Korea?’ but ‘excited’ got translated into ‘horny’.

This clip enriches the exhibition because subtitles in other languages are not added to the video until after the stream is over. The Vlive wants the livestreams to be family friendly, so it censored ‘horny’ and replaced it with the word ‘thrilled’. Anyone who doesn’t speak Korean would be relying fully on the subtitles provided for accurate translations, so they would be certain that the word spoken in Korean by the members was ‘thrilled’ even though it wasn’t. The only way they could find out the truth is by asking someone who speaks Korean, but since they don’t suspect that their certainty is misplaced, they wouldn’t even seek out a clarification in the first place, remaining disillusioned. This shows how even information straight from the source still leaves room for uncertainty.

This clip is also relevant to the exhibition because the person who originally wrote the comment was certain it said ‘excited’ after all, they had just put it through a translator. If it had not been pointed out by Korean speakers, the commenter would’ve been oblivious. Because of its grammar the BTS members realised that the comment had been translated and deduced that it was probably a mistranslation, but there was still a reliance on technology to give accurate results which shows that we cannot always be certain that technology will give us correct results.

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