“Truth itself is an emergent distinction. It’s not a noun; it’s more of a verb.”
I had the privilege to speak with some high school students on a variety of topics … & opinions, facts & truth came up (as, of course, opinions & beliefs were being discussed). I got to share 1 of my favorite quotes.
Look. Far too often we speak of truths in absolutes and, even worse, suggest an individual fact represents truth. Both of these things are actually the nemesis of truth.
Truths are dependent upon knowledge and, well, knowledge is not only contextual to situations but is also evolving as new learning occurs. In other words, truth is emergent.
And for those who state they stand on a fact as truth, to mangle a Dr. Jason Fox thought, “conviction means you become a convict to something.” An individual fact, tightly held, is simply a cage in which you are the convict holding tight on to a conviction of which the only way you get freed is to actually let go of that conviction and seek numerous facts and the knowledge that comes along with them.
In general, when speaking of truth, we should all be annoyed with specificity and simplicity. What I mean by that is a layered truth demands more than the simplistic specificity that can be found in one, individual, fact. Let me define how i view facts, knowledge and truth (and their relationship).
- Facts. Facts are everywhere. an individual fact is nice to know but, in isolation, does not represent a full truth.
An absence of a fact is typically the root of any conspiracy theory (or false argument). “There is no proof, it is not” never trumps “there is proof that it is.”
- Knowledge. Facts, combined, create knowledge. Opinions, & conspiracy theories, combine *coincidental* facts, not correlated facts. knowledge are *correlated* facts combined. coincidental is lazy. correlation takes work & thought.
- Truth. Truth is a coherence of knowledge (combinations of facts) into a cohesive unit of facts. This means that truth adapts to changing knowledge (not individual facts).
While I’m not sure I got it all exactly right i do believe i was able to get some young people to understand one fact is simply a step toward truth and that truth, itself, is layered and often complex.
This leads me to the societal nemesis of truth – this whole ‘anti-intellectualism’ thing. I honestly don’t understand the whole anti-intellectual thing. I have tried, but the tangled web eludes me. Its quite possible knowledge, which is exponentially different than common sense (which isn’t really that common), is caught up the whole “establishment is bad” thing.
It almost seems like every existing infrastructure, let’s call it ‘establishment’, is being painted as “bad, stupid & incompetent.’ And they are not. Saying all politicians are worthless, or media is all tainted and crooked, or all science is driven by a liberal agenda, is as bad as me saying all old white men are sexist, xenophobic asshats.
We treat establishment as if it is one big conspiracy theory which is a little out of my realm of belief. The victim of this odd attack on establishment and those who have real factual knowledge is, well, truth. Truth is dependent upon facts & knowledge well used and well-honed in the battlefield of thinking & thought. Without it the intellectual debate resides on the superficial surface of anything meaningful.
“Is being an investigator the opposite of being an artist? Maybe it is just that some mysteries require an artist not an investigator. That an artist has different ways to get to the truth.”
The path to truth is not just one path. Sure. I may know one ‘truth.’ But in knowing that I know … well … one thing. And I am sure many people are fine with the knowledge of one truth. And I do not begrudge them of that. For one truth is, at its core, a truth. And I believe everyone needs some truth in their life.
Does knowing more than one truth <if there truly is such a thing> make someone better? Yikes. I don’t believe I could be a good judge of that. Because knowing multiple truths can be confusing and in confusion someone just may not end up in a better place. I guess I would suggest that if multiple truths put you on more solid ground than go for it.
But the real point to this is that someone without YOUR knowledge is more likely to teach you something completely new than someone who shares your knowledge.
And, ultimately, if you are trying to understand the world, or simply solve a problem, to truly learn the answer you may have to turn your back on some things you know and face someone who knows some other facts, has some other knowledge and may even be able to share some new truths.
On a separate note (maybe on my mind because I was speaking with students).
I will say, as I discuss facts, knowledge & truth, I find the entire concept of ‘future-proof skills” absurd. There is no such thing as a future-proof skill. Okay. Maybe active learning (but I don’t think that is a skill). Which leads me to the thing that always makes me chuckle whenever I get pulled into some ‘future skills’ discussion. Its “Technique for Producing Ideas” by James Webb Young. Published in 1940 written by a man who developed these ‘skills’ in the 1920’s. The entire book is about ‘future-proofing skill development.” 1920’s. 1940. 2020. What was, is, and will be.
I would suggest that Truth is a puzzling maze for anyone to navigate — good person or bad person.
- Facts come and go. We have as many of them floating around as stars in the sky.
- Knowledge demands some creativity in combination of facts (think seeing constellations in a night sky), some hard work (to gather the most appropriate facts) and some wisdom (to discard less relevant facts).
- Truth demands, well, active learning and a tightly held, loose grip on individual truths themselves.
All that said. Does anyone really want to live in a world without truth?