On Truth

Question of the Day April 15, 2011 ~ Ready for truth?

Are you ready for the real truth to come?

This seems an odd question to me.

For me, truth is an odd notion.

The Oxford defines it variously, and the closest to the sense I mean seems to be:
“Consistent with fact; agreeing with the reality; representing the thing as it is.”

Thus, in my understanding, we all start out our lives with very simple models of the world around us, and those models are refined and elaborated or replaced with something new over time, as we gain experience.

Thus there is a sense that our models, our “truths”, are maps, and no map is ever the thing itself, only the thing itself is what it is. A map or model is always and necessarily different from, and usually less than, the thing itself.

Then there is the question of how do we get to know what is a fact, or experience a thing “as it is”?

There are whole branches of philosophy and science devoted to that question.

In brief, it seems that our intuition is very reliable at giving us answers in areas where we have a lot of experience, but the reliability of intuition degrades as we move into new areas or domains.

Thus we get very good at distinguishing apples if we work in an apple orchard for a few years, or fish if we work as a fisherman for a few years.
I had a great personal experience of this about 16 years ago, when I was walking along Hatfield’s Beach north of Auckland with Ailsa and some friends (Aryen and Julie). We were walking along the water’s edge, and the tide was coming in over the sand, and I saw lots of little flounder in the shallow water. I pointed at them and told the others to look at them, but no one else could see them (I had been a professional flounder fisherman for 17 years). After about 2 minutes of strange looks, and all the others thinking I was joking, I reached down and caught a little flounder in my cupped hands.
I showed it to the others, and even though it was in my hands, they couldn’t see it. Flounder are very well camouflaged, and sitting on the sand in my hand, they could not see it.
I had to get rid of all the sand, and leave just the tiny flounder sitting on my bare skin (it was less than an inch long), before any of the others could see it.

It was an extreme example of what happens to all of us, every day.
We can only see what we are able to distinguish.
So much of what happens around us we are not trained to see, so we are completely unaware of it.

All of those people other than myself were certain that there were no flounder there.
Every one of them was shocked when they eventually did see that there was a fish there.
There were many of them in the water, I could see hundreds, and to me they all looked as different as people do, because I have handled millions of live and dead flounder.

I have spent much of my life thinking about how we get to know what we know, and how reliable is that knowledge.
For me, all knowledge has probability functions surrounding it.
For me, while I use many assumptions as “being so” on a day to day basis, I am willing to question and re-examine any of them, should evidence appear that requires it.

Thus, I suspect, the notion of “truth” for me, is very different from the notion that most people hold.

For me, I am fully aware that my models are models of models. My brain creates models, then my awareness gets to make models based upon the models of brain (Wittgenstein’s shadows on the wall).

So while I allow for the reality that is, I am conscious that my models are and must always be, imperfect representations of that which they model. So for me, the very idea of “real truth” is an idea that can only make sense to those who have not sufficiently investigated the processes of human knowing to know that all knowledge has its limits of usefulness.

[followed by]

I’m with Judi

It seems that the “truth” is an illusion. If we do actually find it, we can never be certain of it.

One of my favourite passages from the Bible is Genisis 2:17
“But of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, thou shalt not eat of it: for in the day that thou eatest thereof thou shalt surely die.”
If you think you know “the truth”, if you think you know what is “good” or “evil” then that is the sure and certain path to death.
The best hope for us all is to stay in the question, to remain open to possibility, and to do the best we can, not because it is any sort of “truth” but just because it is the best we can do in the moment; to the best of our limited human abilities.

It seems to me that the search for “truth” is an honourable road.
It seems to me that being certain one has found “The Truth” is the mark of a dangerous fool.

About Ted Howard NZ

Seems like I might be a cancer survivor. Thinking about the systemic incentives within the world we find ourselves in, and how we might adjust them to provide an environment that supports everyone (no exceptions) - see www.tedhowardnz.com/money
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1 Response to On Truth

  1. holessence says:

    Ted – I especially resonated with:

    “We can only see what we are able to distinguish. So much of what happens around us we are not trained to see, so we are completely unaware of it.”


    “It seems to me that the search for “truth” is an honourable road. It seems to me that being certain one has found “The Truth” is the mark of a dangerous fool.”


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