The Thirty Minute Blogger

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Wednesday, July 12, 2017

What Is Truth?

What is truth? It's a hot topic today. Let's look at the first dictionary definition that popped up in a Google search: 

  1. the quality or state of being true.

    "he had to accept the truth of her accusation"

    • that which is true or in accordance with fact or reality.
      noun: the truth

      "tell me the truth"

      synonyms:what actually happened, the case, soMore

    • a fact or belief that is accepted as true.
      plural noun: truths

      "the emergence of scientific truths"

    • See that? Look at the difference between the first two definitions and the third. There's where we stumble today. We go from a strong declaration of the truth being true, in accordance with fact or reality, slipping and sliding down slope to "a fact or belief that is accepted as true." There we go, from something verified to something some group asserts strongly, facts be damned. That is the state of American society today ... and society worldwide, I figure (but that's my opinion, not a verifiable truth, so don't consider that true, please, thank you!!!). 

  2. I asked a journalist I know, how he dug out the truth of a story. He told me the way it was done in journalism (real, verifiable, years of training required journalism) is that you asked as many people (sources) associated with the story as you could find what actually happened. Being fallible and conditioned by their upbringing to see things differently, each gives you a different version of events. However, when you take those all together and compare and contrast them, certain consistencies will appear. Those consistencies point to the truth of the situation. That's as close to the truth as you can get with the stories from human beings and that's how journalistic truth is found. So, there you have one way to get at the truth.

In archaeology there was this thing called "ground truth." As a professional archaeologist, you did all the research you could on the site you were going to excavate before you began. You developed particular ideas, hypotheses, of what you expected to find based on models of human behavior and the findings of similar sites. That was all well and good. However, when you got into the field and started digging, you had to be ready to chuck all the pretty hypotheses out the window if the evidence in the ground told a different story. You could not pick and choose between elements, supporting those that bolstered your pretty ideas and ignore those that blew a huge hole in your hypotheses, no matter how much you loved your model, your research, or your beliefs. 

From this we see that truth is often come by only through diligent effort, and a great deal of it, and a willingness to admit you just might have been wrong about something. Actual, verifiable truth will stand the test of time. Truth is not simply the belief of some portion of the population shouted more loudly than others (it can be, but loud shouting and emotional assertion of a thing do not make that thing true). 

Watching our culture unravel is painful. The lack of trust, life lived in different bubbles, the use of social media to strengthen one point of view over another no matter where the facts lead, no common narrative among us, no shared perspective, all of this may well destroy us. It is certainly making it increasingly difficult to find the truth amidst the noise. Our leaders are not helping as they blatantly lie about one thing after another in a growing torrent, insisting that because they say it loud and often, it must be so. That doesn't make it true. At best, that is the third and least reliable definition of truth, and one easily thwarted by reality. You can say no harm will come to a person who tweets while walking the busy city streets of New York without ever looking up. Say it all you want, but the truth of the matter is that texter will soon either be smashed flat by a car or bus walked in front of or will break his or her nose or noggin on a wall walked squarely into while looking down. Truth will rear up and make a fool out of that prevaricator, no matter how insistent he or she may be that an untrue thing is truth itself. More likely it will make a fool out of the follower of the snake oil salesperson who said no harm would come from the street walking twitterer since the salesperson is unlikely to follow his or her own advice in this regard. 

George Orwell spoke of our situation: 

The very concept of objective truth is fading out of the world. Lies will pass into history. George Orwell
Vladimir Lenin put it a little differently: 

A lie told often enough becomes the truth. Vladimir Lenin
At this point, let's take a look at various voices who speak of truth. We may find common threads in what they have to say, threads of truth. 

The truth is incontrovertible. Malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end, there it is. Winston Churchill (Thanks brainyquotes for these accumulated quotes on truth. For more, see:
Whoever is careless with the truth in small matters cannot be trusted with important matters. Albert Einstein 
I refuse to accept the view that mankind is so tragically bound to the starless midnight of racism and war that the bright daybreak of peace and brotherhood can never become a reality... I believe that unarmed truth and unconditional love will have the final word. Martin Luther King, Jr.
The goal of education is the advancement of knowledge and the dissemination of truth. John F. Kennedy
We learned about honesty and integrity - that the truth matters... that you don't take shortcuts or play by your own set of rules... and success doesn't count unless you earn it fair and square. Michelle Obama

31Then Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, “If you continue in my word, you are truly my disciples; 32and you will know the truth, and the truth will make you free.” 33They answered him, “We are descendants of Abraham and have never been slaves to anyone. What do you mean by saying, ‘You will be made free’?” 34Jesus answered them, “Very truly, I tell you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin. 35The slave does not have a permanent place in the household; the son has a place there forever. 36So if the Son makes you free, you will be free indeed. Jesus: John 8:31-36, NRSV
You can hate me. You can go out there and say anything you want about me, But you will love me later because I told you the truth. Mary J. Blige
Here's an exercise in truth for all of us. Have I verified all of these quotes? Nope, I've trusted Brainyquotes and the Bible in their source verification. Check for yourselves and see if these are true quotes from the people mentioned. Once that's done, look for common threads in these truth quotes and others you can find. See what truth has meant to humanity throughout our long history and prehistory. Then, let's get back to the idea there are hard and fast truths to be found out there in multiple disciplines. Let's agree that people across the centuries have had insights into the reality of truth and we should both respect and profit from that, even when those discoveries fly in the face of what we in our various social media groups have come to believe is true, even when we haven't tested such truths. Let the truth make us free. 

For an interesting paper challenging postmodernism and its slippery hold on the truth, see: It may challenge some beliefs ... and that's not a bad thing, truth be told. 

Last word: 
Quick condemnation of all that is not ours, of views with which we disagree, of ideas that do not attract us, is the sign of a narrow mind, of an uncultivated intelligence. Bigotry is always ignorant, and the wise boy, who will become the wise man, tries to understand and to see the truth in ideas with which he does not agree. Annie Besant
Now, I have to go. Truth be told, I'm WAY past my 30 minutes for this post. 

For a little more truth telling (with colorful pictures), see: 

For some truth about journalism and journalists (professionally trained and employed) (not commentators for various outlets) while under attack as "fake news," see:

For a book by a seeker of truth, NPR's religion correspondent Barbara Bradley Hagerty, see:

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