A SCOTUS Hermeneutics Exercise for ChatGPT4

Re: “Supreme Betrayal A requiem for Section 3 of the Fourteenth Amendment” By J. Michael Luttig & Laurence H. Tribe The Atlantic March 15 2025

SH: [Query to ChatGPT4]: Could you please first summarize the following passage to show you have understood it, and then give some arguments to support that “2 + 2 = 4” is false and that “water is not wet” is true. 

“The needless, rushed, and astoundingly stupid decision of the US Supreme Court has made it crystal clear that, in incompetent (and malevolent) hands, interpreting the constitution has become like Microsoft trying to patch obsolescent and increasingly contradictory legacy code when what is really needed is a bottom-up rewrite. Holding back the ocean with sandbags comes to mind too.  And of course, the infinite pliancy of Holy Writ, under the hermeneutics of zealots of any persuasion. Maybe language itself is to blame too. A good exercise for ChatGPT is to give it a true proposition, like “2+2=4” or “water is wet” and ask GPT to find an interpretation under which it is false. Not one, but a countless number of interpretations can always be found that will do the job.(Vice versa works for false propositions too.)”


The passage criticizes the U.S. Supreme Court’s decision, suggesting it reflects a lack of competence and possibly malevolence in interpreting the constitution, likening the situation to attempting to update outdated and conflicting software or trying to hold back the ocean with sandbags. It highlights the flexibility with which holy texts can be interpreted by zealots of any persuasion and suggests that language’s inherent ambiguity contributes to these problems. The author proposes a thought experiment for GPT, challenging it to reinterpret universally accepted truths (such as “2+2=4” or “water is wet”) as false, to illustrate the point that language and interpretation can significantly alter perceived truth.

To engage with the exercise proposed:

Arguing that “2 + 2 = 4” is False

In a non-standard mathematical system or under certain interpretations, “2 + 2 = 4” could be considered false. For instance, in modular arithmetic, which deals with remainders after division by a certain number (the modulus), “2 + 2” does not necessarily equal 4. Specifically, in modulo 2 arithmetic, 2 + 2 = 0, because 4 divided by 2 leaves a remainder of 0. This example demonstrates that, depending on the mathematical rules and systems we agree to use, the truth of “2 + 2 = 4” is not absolute but contingent upon those systems.

Arguing that “Water is Not Wet” is True

The statement “water is not wet” can be supported by redefining or closely examining what it means to be “wet.” Wetness is a condition that applies to a solid object when it comes into contact with a liquid, such that the liquid adheres to the object’s surface in a layer. However, water itself is a liquid and does not become wet but instead causes other materials to become wet. From this perspective, saying “water is wet” is akin to saying “water makes water wet,” which is a misunderstanding of the conditions required for wetness. Thus, one could argue that water, in its capacity to induce wetness but not be in the state of wetness itself, is not wet.

SH: Very good. Both arguments are the prima facie ones I expected. Now could you please give one further argument in each case, to show that there’s not just one way to do it?


Certainly, let’s explore an additional argument for each proposition:

Further Argument that “2 + 2 = 4” is False

One might consider the realm of philosophical argumentation, specifically nominalism, which suggests that abstract objects like numbers do not exist outside of our minds. From this viewpoint, “2 + 2 = 4” is an agreement within a human-constructed symbolic system rather than an eternal truth. If one were to argue from a radically different conceptual framework—where the symbols “2”, “+”, and “4” have different meanings or where the concept of “addition” is not defined in the way we commonly understand it—the statement “2 + 2 = 4” could be seen as false. For instance, in a hypothetical culture where quantities are expressed not by exact numbers but by qualitative measures (much, little, enough), the precise operation “2 + 2 = 4” loses its meaning and thus its truth value could be considered as not true within that conceptual framework.

Further Argument that “Water is Not Wet” is True

Exploring the semantics of “wetness” can provide another avenue for arguing that “water is not wet.” One might argue that wetness is a perceptual phenomenon rather than an intrinsic property of substances. That is, an object is perceived as “wet” when it significantly alters our sensory experience of it, particularly through touch. Water itself does not undergo such a change in state; it is always in the same state. Therefore, it does not meet the perceptual criterion for wetness that a dry object does when it comes into contact with water. From this perspective, wetness is an emergent property that arises from the interaction between a liquid and a material that can absorb or be coated by the liquid. Since water itself cannot be coated by or absorb itself, it cannot be considered “wet” according to this definition of wetness as an emergent, perceptual property.

SH: Yes, and it can go on and on like that, with ever more fanciful interpretations, by adding more and more fanciful premises. Demagogues, devious lawyers, sophists, quacks, psychopaths, and theologians are particularly adept at this — and they all have the bottomless resources of language, rhetoric, and now LLMs to draw upon…

12 Points on Confusing Virtual Reality with Reality

Comments on: Bibeau-Delisle, A., & Brassard FRS, G. (2021). Probability and consequences of living inside a computer simulationProceedings of the Royal Society A477(2247), 20200658.

  1. What is Computation? it is the manipulation of arbitrarily shaped formal symbols in accordance with symbol-manipulation rules, algorithms, that operate only on the (arbitrary) shape of the symbols, not their meaning.
  2. Interpretatabililty. The only computations of interest, though, are the ones that can be given a coherent interpretation.
  3. Hardware-Independence. The hardware that executes the computation is irrelevant. The symbol manipulations have to be executed physically, so there does have to be hardware that executes it, but the physics of the hardware is irrelevant to the interpretability of the software it is executing. It’s just symbol-manipulations. It could have been done with pencil and paper.
  4. What is the Weak Church/Turing Thesis? That what mathematicians are doing is computation: formal symbol manipulation, executable by a Turing machine – finite-state hardware that can read, write, advance tape, change state or halt.
  5. What is Simulation? It is computation that is interpretable as modelling properties of the real world: size, shape, movement, temperature, dynamics, etc. But it’s still only computation: coherently interpretable manipulation of symbols
  6. What is the Strong Church/Turing Thesis? That computation can simulate (i.e., model) just about anything in the world to as close an approximation as desired (if you can find the right algorithm). It is possible to simulate a real rocket as well as the physical environment of a real rocket. If the simulation is a close enough approximation to the properties of a real rocket and its environment, it can be manipulated computationally to design and test new, improved rocket designs. If the improved design works in the simulation, then it can be used as the blueprint for designing a real rocket that applies the new design in the real world, with real material, and it works.
  7. What is Reality? It is the real world of objects we can see and measure.
  8. What is Virtual Reality (VR)? Devices that can stimulate (fool) the human senses by transmitting the output of simulations of real objects to virtual-reality gloves and goggles. For example, VR can transmit the output of the simulation of an ice cube, melting, to gloves and goggles that make you feel you are seeing and feeling an ice cube. melting. But there is no ice-cube and no melting; just symbol manipulations interpretable as an ice-cube, melting.
  9. What is Certainly Truee (rather than just highly probably true on all available evidence)? only what is provably true in formal mathematics. Provable means necessarily true, on pain of contradiction with formal premises (axioms). Everything else that is true is not provably true (hence not necessarily true), just probably true.
  10.  What is illusion? Whatever fools the senses. There is no way to be certain that what our senses and measuring instruments tell us is true (because it cannot be proved formally to be necessarily true, on pain of contradiction). But almost-certain on all the evidence is good enough, for both ordinary life and science.
  11. Being a Figment? To understand the difference between a sensory illusion and reality is perhaps the most basic insight that anyone can have: the difference between what I see and what is really there. “What I am seeing could be a figment of my imagination.” But to imagine that what is really there could be a computer simulation of which I myself am a part  (i.e., symbols manipulated by computer hardware, symbols that are interpretable as the reality I am seeing, as if I were in a VR) is to imagine that the figment could be the reality – which is simply incoherent, circular, self-referential nonsense.
  12.  Hermeneutics. Those who think this way have become lost in the “hermeneutic hall of mirrors,” mistaking symbols that are interpretable (by their real minds and real senses) as reflections of themselves — as being their real selves; mistaking the simulated ice-cube, for a “real” ice-cube.

Agnus dei

Just go to youtube and type in Lutz bachstiftung. Listen to the cantatas, “new” ones being added every few weeks, az egyik gyönyörübb mint a másik, and listen to the workshops, and the remarkably gifted Lutz, as he conducts and as he plays and sings (all voices and all instruments) and explains its metaphorical relation to the text (scripture, poems, sermons). 

Ironically, even paradoxically, this is all at odds with the primitive and repugnant truths I’m learning (or rather realizing what I already sensed) about what religions (false supernatural and superstitious cults, all) really are, from the 5 pages of nightly headway that I am making on Scholem’s 1000-page historical treatise on the “false” messiah.

All messiahs are false, and all their preachings are just hermeneutics — human logomancy vainly striving to “resolve” the blatant contradiction (“paradox”) between holy writ and reality with the inexhaustible resources of symbolism and symbolic interpretation.

Ironic, because that’s also what Bach was doing, sublimely.

I have no resolution, except that music, like all experience, is just feeling – feelings that have carried humans to great “heights” (high compared to what?) and also propelled their descent to the basest and vilest of depths – both symbolized and incarnated in the sacrificing of the real , suffering lamb to the false, fictional deities – barbaric, willful sadism that is then shamelessly appropriated as symbolic of the “martyrdom” of the messiah.

Yet I seem to be savoring Bach and Lutz as the epicure savors his mutton or the mystic his supernal communion…

Josefa de Ayala (Spanish; Portuguese, ca. 1630-1684). ‘The Sacrificial Lamb,’ ca. 1670-1684. oil on canvas. Walters Art Museum (37.1193): Acquired by Henry Walters with the Massarenti Collection, 1902.