you are reading an article about truth right now.
at this moment, your eyes are working sufficiently to be able to read this article, which is written in lower case, and involves a quote by nietzsche. in the alternative, you are listening to an audio program that is translating these words into voice, or someone is reading this to you.
you have taken a breath in the last five minutes.
you are riding a live dolphin right now.
four statements. i am 99.999% certain that the first two are correct and that the second one is not. three, we could say, are true, and one is a lie.
certain. correct. true. lie. words that seem so easy to use until you start thinking about them. “honesty” is another one. i remember years ago i went to a series of training sessions for therapists who were conducting therapy groups, and one of the guidelines was that we should tell the truth. very soon it became obvious to me that that was easier than done. here are some of the challenges:
- in order for to tell the truth, we need to know it
- “knowledge is but a small drop in the vast ocean of truth” – quoted by one of my revered philosophy professors, norman swartz, in reference to newton’s famous saying
- is truth fixed or variable?
there are many more questions, but let’s start with these three.
how about the last one – is truth fixed or variable? notice how the statements at the beginning of this post all have reference to a certain moment. if something is not tied to coordinates either in space or time, can we know anything for certain about it? (and let’s leave aside the question whether truth is about “knowing for certain” – something that philosophers love to argue about).
now of course i am interested in how the concept of truth relates to human interaction. so here’s a somewhat scary thought: when we say “i love you”, we really want this to be the truth, and when we hear it, we want that even more to be the case. now try “i love you now”. not quite the same, is it? often we skimp on “truth” in favour of hope, beauty, comfort and other noble sentiments. is that a good thing? should we stick with truth no matter what? would it be a good idea to practice being more precise? because the truth in a romantic relationship is closer to “if i don’t get bored with you, and don’t fall in love with someone else, and we don’t have too many fights, and raising children and paying mortgages doesn’t wear us down, i hope i’ll love you for a long time.” i don’t know if truth is conditional, but it certainly seems that the things we say to be the truth are. kabbalah scholar michael laitman, appears to be thinking along these lines when he says that what we call truth is directly related to desires.
nietzsche’s words that “all things are subject to interpretation whichever interpretation prevails at a given time is a function of power and not truth” are interesting in this connection as well.
let’s move on to another idea, the one about the ocean of knowledge. the first three statements above imply that a bit. the moment you read the first word of the first statement of this entry, you and the world around you are faced with an immense amount of truth. which one will you focus on? which one do you want to or can you pay attention to? which one will you be completely oblivious to or will insist to exclude?
this is something that gets in our way a lot when it comes to interpersonal communication. the myers briggs instructions for making pumpkin soup are an amusing example of that. the “intuitive” personality approaches making pumpkin soup as an interesting creative project; for the “sensory” personality it is a technical challenge (“chop mushroom and onions. caliper will be helpful here. 3/16th inch thickness recommended.”) making pumpkin soup, even though it may result in the same product, is experienced from two totally different points of view: the intuitive type lives in a world of possibilities, so that in thinking and talking about truth, she will select from the “ocean of truth” those aspects that she sees as belonging to that world; the sensory type lives in the realm of measurement and tangibles, so in describing the truth, her language will spring from that realm.
“in order to speak the truth, we need to know it.” and in order to know it, we need to be able to recognize it. this recognition is very difficult when we have the blind spots that we just discussed, blind spots that are caused by numerous conditions. personality type is one of them but it gets even simpler: a car mechanic, for example, has a totally different take on the truth about my car than i do; i would not be able to tell the difference between truth and fiction when it comes to carburetors. and going back to the group i mentioned earlier, there are some things that i knew i didn’t know about myself, some of which i know now. the “honest truth” was elusive. the consequence of that is a judiciary use of “i don’t know” (without using it as an excuse or escape) or “this is what i know right now.” this, of course, reopens the can of worms i touched on before: truth is one thing, knowing about the truth another, and then talking about it yet another. saying “i don’t know” isn’t always popular (it definitely often isn’t perceived as popular), and saying “this is what i know now” can often be taken as weasely.
okay – so now what? the truth is, it’s late at night, i’m tired, and i’d like to know what you think so far …