Truth can be simultaneously steadfast and contextual



“The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place.”

George Bernard Shaw


“Perception is a dynamic conflict between the attempts of an outer world to impose an actuality on us and our efforts to transform this actuality into a self-centered perspective.

Perception is a confrontation between an inward-directed vector of external reality compelling awareness and an outward-directed vector of physiological, cultural, and psychological transformation.

Where these vectors clash, where they balance each other, is what we perceive.”

Source: Understanding Conflict and War – Volume 1: The Dynamic Psychological Field


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.  Truth is often contextual, often situation-specific, and often can take on a slightly different hue when viewed by different people. In other words, truth is emergent.

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).


“Believe those who are seeking the truth. Doubt those who find it.”

André Gide


“Truth” is rarely are solid black & white. Truth is often contextual, nuanced and often slippery to get a hold of. Now. Let’s not confuse facts with truth. Lots of facts exist. And in a mutually exclusive environment someone can hold up a fact as a single-minded fragile truth. The difficulty is that everything is connected with everything and a single fact does not ever live in a world solo. It rubs elbows within a community of other facts. And as they rub against each other they create, well, truths. Truth is a combination of facts.

That said. The simplest use of facts is, well, to use one fact to make a conclusion. 99.9% of the time one fact is not reflective of a conclusion. Yet. We people are pretty persistent in doing this. the problem with this is, in isolation, that fact can be many things to many people leading to many possible conclusions depending on “where you stand.” If I were particularly harsh I would suggest of you hold only one fact with your conclusion it is an opinion, not a truth.

The next most common use of facts is linear logic. This fact plus this fact equals this truth. Or maybe call it a “if this, and this, then that” logic. This combinatorial usage is pretty relentlessly persistent in the world mostly because it appeals to our ‘common sense’ instinctual logic. To be fair, if you stack this, ‘buildable logic’ it is slightly better. That said. 99.9% of the time you are screwed if you believe this represents ‘accepted truth.’ Why? Revisit the simplest use of facts, but double the potential pain. Each of the individual facts could be viewed a gazillion different ways by an infinite number of people and the “this + this” is no longer additive. The codependency makes this an extremely fragile logic.

The follow-up to linear logic is fact storytelling. This is where you connect a number of facts that logically conclude in a truth. This is an incredibly effective way of communicating a ‘truth’ in a way that not only appears logical, but sounds good. Once again, revisit point one. This sounds good, but is also extremely fragile in that a story begins to fall apart if one thing is disputed. But this is where this one gets a bit crazy. The conspiracy fact storytelling. This is the “go-to” technique on cable TV opinion shows. This is where they pluck any number of random facts, which in isolation may be technically true, and then combine them in a very tenuous connective storyline in order to make the grand conclusion that “if all these things are true, this has to be the conclusion.” This one is wacky, but unfortunately highly effective in creating a perception of a ‘truth.’ I will note this is extremely difficult to destruct effectively because the facts are so often random eliminating one simply leaves a number of others in this mosh pit of non-associated facts for the conspiracy to fall back on. I will also note this is not healthy for society.

Lastly is ‘bounded truth.’ This is what you learn in debate classes or any logic classes. You triangulate, or box, multiple facts so the conclusion resides WITHIN the space of the connected facts. Its “if these four things truly exist, within this space resides the truth.”

Which leads me to the title of this piece: truth can simultaneously be contextual and timeless. Bounded truths reside in a world of facts and other truths. Any, and all, of these things can change, but if the ‘boundary facts’ do not, the context has not ultimately changed the principles of that truth. It becomes timeless … until the boundary facts change (as facts have a tendency to do at some point).

This all means truth is often elusive. In that I mean, if you care about truth, you are always in the pursuit of truth as facts replace facts (as facts tend to do).

Now. I want to be careful. Yes. There is truth in the world. Even if some facts change all they do is change the shape of most truths, not make them ‘untruths.’ I do believe we sometimes forget that. Simply because a fact changes does not make the whole become irrelevant. It can, but most times it does not.

I believe rather than discussing truth, or a truth, as static we should refer to it in, well, progress terms. The pursuit of truth is one of progress. Things may arc toward truth (assuming there is active involvement in the pursuit of), but that arc is not smooth nor does it actually move in one direction. Truth, itself, is uneven in that in its combination of facts those facts can reside in the past, present and future as well as within the truth itself and ‘with-out’ (correlative connectedness). Truth is, well, very often emergent therefore, you can deal with many wrong turns, stops (which look like dead ends but aren’t really), doom loops and a variety of backtracking trips. All in all, though, things continue moving toward a Truth that changes. And Truth changes in some unexpected and unpredictable ways. Being blind, or remaining purposefully ignorant to that, shifting of truths can cost you, well, Truth itself.

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.


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 active learning and a tightly held, loose grip on individual truths themselves.
  • Truth is often fragile. This means it demands some rigor to protect it from opinions.
Written by Bruce