The question of what the truth is cuts across numerous disciplines and aspects of our lives. From science and philosophy, down to religion and individual experiences, what the truth is has been in constant debate. The debate is good. The problem is, most people do not understand what the truth is so they end up fighting about the wrong things, whilst holding on to lies.
What Is Truth?
Truth is the accurate explanation of reality. But the truth can only be approached but never reached (because the nature of reality is infinite).
For example, it is true ice is hard. But it is truer that ice is just water with its molecules tightly bound. And, it is even truer that ice is a bunch of hydrogen and oxygen molecules that aren’t moving freely due to chemical bonds. Of course, you can go deeper and deeper till you reach the subatomic level, and soon realize that it’s all just mostly empty space, and an energy field which we do not fully understand its fundamental nature (hence, do not really know the truth or at least, the complete truth). This is also a similar conundrum that is faced when trying to explain why we are alive or intelligent. Yes, we have blood, oxygen, and a brain. But those do not explain explicitly why we are alive and conscious. When you dig deeper, you only find more questions and confusion.
However, this does not mean we shouldn’t chase the truth. Because the closer we are to reality, the better.
For example, by understanding that ice is made of tightly bound hydrogen and oxygen atoms, you can confidently place it on top of leftover rice when rewarming using a microwave (knowing molecules of water are not poisonous and don’t react explosively under microwaves). By also understanding that life and consciousness are tethered to the blood, oxygen, and brain, you can treat illness and even improve the quality of life and consciousness as we know it (think about the NeuralLink technology that will be rolling out soon).
Truth is a light in the mind-bogglingly vast and complex reality we find ourselves in. And, the brighter the truth burns, the better we can understand and enjoy reality.
Types Of Truth
Although there are different ways of categorizing truth, I prefer breaking it down into;
- Subjective truth
- Normative truth
- Objective truth, and
- Complex truth.
This is how an individual experience and interprets the world. E.g., “The sun is too hot and is damaging my skin”. The limitation of this truth is often the individual’s experiences, biases, thinking faculty, and emotions which keep it limited and incomplete.
“We see the world not as it is, but as we are.” – Anais Nin
This is how a group perceives and interprets the world. E.g., “The sun rises and falls every day enabling our crops to grow”. The limitation is usually the difficulty in questioning, improving, or abandoning a generally shared belief. Hence, incomplete, limiting, and often counterproductive ideas linger for too long.
“The truth is not always popular, but it is always right.”
This is what the world appears to persistently be no matter the view of the individual, or group. E.g., “The sun is a ball of burning gas that gives off energy in the form of heat and light. And it doesn’t rise or fall, rather the earth spins on its axis”. The limitation of this truth is usually our current level of understanding and tools.
“Facts are stubborn things; and whatever may be our wishes, our inclinations, or the dictates of our passions, they cannot alter the state of facts and evidence.”– John Adams
This is a combination of all the truths. E.g. The burning ball of gas releases both light and heat that is useful for seeing and growing food whenever our side of the earth faces it. But, if someone stays out in the sun for too long it may scorch them”. The limitation is often lack of communication/understanding between people with the different truths.
“The truth is like a lion, you don’t have to defend it, it can defend itself.”– Saint Augustine
It is tempting to look at the 4 types of truth as different truths, but they are in fact the same truth viewed from different lenses.
Any truth about the sun must be able to complement and improve the other truths about the sun. Notice how the individual, group, and objective truths about the sun all lead to a coherent complex truth that can be used in making informed decisions.
With the current dataclysm we are experiencing thanks to the internet, it is easy to bump into more and more versions of personal, group, or objective truths. And, it is easy to also find a lot of arguments. But, if you are a seeker of truth, this shouldn’t perturb you. In fact, you should be intentionally seeking, listening, and combining them to create a more accurate description and understanding of the world you find yourself in.
Someone might have a subjective view of the sun as a god that brings life every morning. Now, even though – thanks to science – we know the sun is not “a conscious or living thing”, it is not necessarily a lie if someone labels it a god and decides to worship it as a powerful entity that makes life possible.
Hence, finding the truth becomes something to be done with care and respect. But, if you are going to seek the truth, you must be able and willing to spot and reject lies.
So, what are lies?
What Is a Lie
A Lie is simply an inaccurate description of reality (whether intentionally or unintentionally). If I say the sun is cold, that is a lie.
But, if I say the sun is orange, I may not be lying depending on where I am speaking from. If I were pointing to the sun from earth, what I would see would be orange (because the atmosphere distorts the color). However, the sun is actually white from space (at least, to the human eyes).
This is interesting because most times people argue other people’s view of the truth without understanding their standpoint. This is why arguments about money, love, and God are so fierce and never settled (because depending on where you are standing, it can look quite obvious what you should believe or not).
Also Read: Why I Don’t Believe In Prayer Anymore
So, it becomes important to make the distinction between lies and different points of view.
This is why I said at the beginning of this content that the debate is good. Debates enable people to bring others to their point of view, and who knows, standing at one point of view may be better than standing at the other.
A good example is how rather than observing the universe from the earth, astronauts undertake the stressful and expensive mission of putting a satellite in space (a few kilometers above the earth’s atmosphere – to avoid the distortions).
Lies are wrong no matter how you look at them. But, the truth can look different from different points of view.
Types of Lies
To better understand lies, here are some lies reflecting the inversion of the level of necessary truth
“Perception is reality”
- “I’m a loser” – This is a lie because you’ve successfully made it alive to this point, and have a lot of wins under your belt, but are not acknowledging them.
- “No one loves me” – This is most likely false because you are likely denying being aware of those who have shown you care and affection.
- “If I achieve X I will be finally happy” – This is a lie because you are ignoring the fact that you have said something similar in the past, but only ended up wanting another thing.
Also Read: 21 Ways You Betray Yourself Yourself Daily
“Conformity is the jailer of freedom and the enemy of growth.”
- “You have to work hard to be rich” – This is false because there are people who inherit wealth or earn a lot doing very little work.
- “Women are weak, dumb, or incompetent” – This is a lie because even though women generally have less muscle mass, they can train to become stronger. And, there is no legitimate basis for labelling them dumb or incompetent.
- “Smokers are criminals” – This is a lie because smoking is simply a bad habit, and does not mean a person is bad.
“Facts do not cease to exist because they are ignored.”
- “The world is flat” – This is a lie because even simple scientific experiments prove the earth is spherical.
- “Vaccines are dangerous” – This is a lie because even though some people badly react to certain medications (including vaccines), vaccines are rigorously tested and scientifically proven to be effective and safe.
- “The earth is less than 10,000 years old” – This is a lie because several scientific techniques (including carbon dating) prove the earth is much older.
“The truth is rarely pure and never simple.”
- “Only stupid people believe in God ” – This is a lie because it doesn’t take into account other perspectives and factors that motivate people to believe in a God (who they may also interpret in different ways).
- “You have to choose between family or money” – This is a lie because it doesn’t take into account other perspectives such as flexible work arrangements and shared responsibilities.
- “I can’t be happy if I’m not rich” – This is a lie because it doesn’t take into account other perspectives such as the role of sense of purpose, relationships, and health in happiness.
Side Note: Some things can neither be proven nor disproven except they perform an action. For example, you can only be sure someone loves you if they make a sacrifice for you. Also, a god can only be proven if they interfere with reality (though one can argue that the fundamental, indifferent functioning of reality is already their intervention – in which case I respect the view as a subjective truth; though I worry about the motif of such a god).
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How To Find The Truth?
Finding the truth is important because it makes life easier, reduces fear, and ameliorates suffering. However, seeking the truth is not about trying to find a middle ground or tolerating other people’s views, but rather ruthlessly testing out opinions against reality, holding on to them as long as they serve, but emotionlessly abandoning them if they break.
Truth is antifragile. It builds on itself (and ruthlessly, automatically tears down lies). Whilst it is true bits of truth can exist independently, whenever they meet they MUST combine perfectly (it will all have to make sense).
A clear demonstration of it is in how tech works. We know that the theories of gravity, chemistry, electricity and aerodynamics are true because when they combine planes fly. If even one of those theories was a lie, planes won’t fly (pretty much how a bulb would remain off until a circuit is completed).
So, it’s not so much as TOLERATING, but LEARNING, TESTING, and BUILDING BETTER THINGS with the truths. This better thing could be your health, finances, relationships, happiness, and so on.
Recommended Post: How Confirmation Bias Can Impact Your Worldview
What Is The Best Approach In Finding The Truth?
Labeling truths with different names is one thing, we may have Kelvin, Celsius, and Fahrenheit for measuring entropy, but denying the truth (entropy) is a lie, and would only end in someone getting hurt badly.
For science, it is often the case that an opinion is labeled a hypothesis or theory, and then brutally tested till it breaks or flies. However, not so many people are willing to pulverize their assumptions till it yields the truth. Rather they label it the truth and guard it, suffer when reality tramples it underfoot, deny the lie is the source of their misery, and take out their anger on anyone who highlights this to them.
When it comes to seeking the truth, the Poppers View and approach is what I will recommend, because it is antifragile, careful, alert, and humble in its pursuit of truth.
The Popperian view suggests that rather than trying to prove our assumptions correct, we should try to prove them wrong. And, that we should only hold on to them for as long as they remain true.
For example, in the past, people thought the sun was a god that moved across the sky. As time went on, by mere observation, people started thinking the sun went around the earth. However, after a couple of scientific experiments and observations, this too was proven to be false. In the 16th century, Copernicus came up with the idea that it was rather the earth and other planets that went around the sun. Many people didn’t like the idea at first (because they thought we were the center of the universe), but as more and more evidence was gathered, they couldn’t keep denying the truth. Today, scientists have accumulated sufficient truths to know the sun is a big ball of burning gas that the earth and other planets revolve around. And that because the earth spins about its axis it creates the illusion of the sun moving across the sky. If today you can enjoy solar energy rather than praying to the sun god in the skies, it is thanks to humanity applying the Popperian approach to some extent.
Side Note: “The Beginning of Infinity, Part 2, greatly influenced my view on the search for truth.
Maybe the sun is a god in a subjective/metaphorical sense, but it won’t serve you very much worshipping it.
So, it is the case that not all truths are equal. And not all perspectives are empowering or even helpful.
You can apply the Popperian view in all other aspects of your life. You can question why you are unhealthy, broke, unhappy, and so on.
The question is, do you want the truth, or do you want what you believe to be true?
Recommended Post: The Role of Critical Thinking in Seeking The Truth
“The truth is not always a pleasant thing. But it is necessary to know the truth.”– Agatha Christie
Most people either believe a lie, or have no clue what the truth is. And, I hope this content gave you some clarity. Feel free to read it over again, or drop your questions in the comments section.
A Self-Help Writer And Editor Who Keeps It Simple (Yet Elegant)