The “Three P’s” are a basic method for distinguishing something that’s true — that is actually happening — from something that is “fake” news, or an unsubstantiated internet rumor that’s gone viral. I’ll use a personal household example to illustrate how the “Three P’s” method works.
When we first moved to Orcas Island we discovered that we shared our house with mice. We decided to pull the welcome mat. Since mice and other rodents can leave a scent trail, we were advised to check regularly, especially during the winter months. We consulted a “pest control” company and followed their advice. How do I know that the mice haven’t returned?
It’s “Possible” that we again have mice in the crawl space and the boiler room. Mice (and other rodents) are present on the island; neighbors have had rodent problems; and mice naturally look for warmer places to live during the winter. Is it “Probable”? It wouldn’t be a big surprise if rodents returned. New generations might pick up the scent trail and follow the same path. I’m not sure it’s probable, however. But to say it’s “probable” goes further than “not surprising.” Probable suggests that it’s not only possible, but it’s likely that they’ve returned. Is it “Proven”?
We cleaned the crawl space and the boiler room of mice 14 years ago when we moved to Orcas. Since then I’ve been checking, every month or so during the winter months. (It’s fairly easy to see the signs, even when no rodents are visible.) As of the most recent inspection, I can say that there are no signs of nesting or infestation. It’s “Proven” through trained (by the pest control company) on-site inspection that, as of my last check, we are not now sharing our house with colonies of mice.
Here’s the second example. What would be your conclusions if you applied the three “P’s” method to the question of whether the 2020 election was stolen, in broad daylight, from the actual winner of the popular vote and the electoral college vote, President Donald Trump?
In your opinion, is such a conspiracy “possible”? Is it “probable”? And most important of all, separating reality from what is possible, or even probable, is it “proven”? And if so, how? Looking closely and seriously at the differences among proven, probable and possible is a way each of us can be honest with ourselves, and with others.
A fable to conclude:
A little boy asks his mommy after dinner if he can have some more ice cream. It was so good!
His mother says, he could, except there isn’t any more ice cream in the house.
What are you saying, the little boy asks? We always have ice cream. Daddy loves ice cream! I love ice cream. We always have ice cream. Mommy, why are you punishing me? I’ve been a very good boy since after lunch?
His mother repeats, there isn’t any more ice cream in the house. We finished the ast for dinner.
The little boy says that’s impossible. It’s never happened before. There was plenty of ice cream ten minutes ago when we had dessert! His mom says, go look in the freezer for yourself. There’s a gap between believing something, however surely and firmly, and knowing factually that it is true and proven.