Part 1 – True Dat’ and subjective; easily confused, misused and

Part 1 – True Dat’
“True” and “truth” are finicky words at best, relative
and subjective; easily confused, misused and
misunderstood. Science, honesty, history, facts,
morality are all in the eyes of the beholder. Even so
called facts are only facts to those who believe them
and are subject to change on a regular basis,
historically speaking (heliocentrism, anyone?). Not
only can we not agree on what is true, we don’t even
necessarily agree on what true is. The OED[1] contains,
in a simple search, 27 pages of definition and
etymology for the words “true” and “truth” alone,
leaving a huge swath of information and fluxing
definition in the word itself, much less in its meaning
or how we use it.
So, as at the very least a place to begin, let us start
with tackling my own highly subjective views of
“truth”. Since there are, as I see it, three main
categories of “truth,” we’ll take them on one at a time
at a time. Maybe later I’ll get to work on Rick’s Grand
Unification Theory of All Things Veracious.
Knowledge or, rather, the definition of
knowledge in my schema, is that of Fact. Science,
mathematics, history, &c. all fall into this nebulous
cloud of Factual Belief. Science has proven X, so, to
the degree that we know and understand X, we hold it to
be true. I believe that the speed of light is
roundabout 300,000 km per second. I find it truthful to
understand that I’m descended from some sort of Super
Ape: a mitochondrial Donkey Kong. But if tomorrow
science decides, as conclusively as they are able, that
I come from a subspecies of sparrow then, sure, why
not. Knowledge, fact, science, while held to be true
and which is something I depend upon, is still up in
the air. New discoveries outdate and strip away old
notions and beliefs. Changing theory and new data
reshape our view of the world on a near-annual basis
and this has become something I’ve come to accept and
become accustomed to, thanks in large part to a
thorough understanding of history. When you are able to
grok that man’s beliefs and concepts of the world have
changed so much and so often in the past, it’s an easy
step to fall back from your own perceptions and realize
that they might very well change at the drop of the
next Erlenmeyer flask.
My father believed that the Earth is round. My
grandfather before him was certain that it was flat. I,
myself, find it rather elliptical. We, all of us, could
still be wrong when some Dutch wiz-kid or Australian
physicist dynamo declares it to be cubic. And when that
happens, we’ll roll with the punches and adapt.
You might assume, upon reading these
thoughts, that I have a very low worth for science, but
I don’t see that as the case at all. Science is
wonderful and is, truly, one of the few things I depend
on. I know science is true. I believe in it like a
religion. But that doesn’t mean that it doesn’t change.
As mankind advances, so do our instruments and ideas,
changing our perception of the universe and the world
around us. And as this new knowledge pushes its way
into our world, our views of reality and our long held
scientific assumptions must change. Adapt or die, as it
were. Having grown up in a home which encouraged
looking at everything in life through a historical and
scientific lens, I grew up with both a firm belief and
understanding of science as True, as well as complete
acceptance that science will change and that true may
well be something different tomorrow.
Now, none of this is to say that I trust
everything said by anyone with a PhD after their
moniker. There is a lot of shady science being done and
a lot of lies being propagated, which I make an effort,
as best as I’m able, to interpret and to judge. But, by
and large, when science, events, mathematics or any
other form of knowledge makes it to the realm of
general acceptance and when it passes my own set of
criteria, I’m usually apt to believe it as much as the
next guy until things spin round again and I don’t.
Make sense?
The second type of truth is the social,
interpersonal type: the dealings with other people.
This is defined in varying terms of character and moral
fortitude, trustworthiness and honor. This form of
truth is very George Washington and the cherry tree (a
story about honesty, which is, ironically, apocryphal)
and very hard to pin down, being the absolute example
of a relative personal issue. It’s not hard to imagine
each and every individual’s defining honesty spread out
across the entire gamut of language and communication.
My white lie is your mortal sin and your honest opinion
is beyond my pale.
Given religions may purport to have a set of standards
written out for what constitutes honesty but these seem
tenuous and fallible at best so I’ve never subscribed
to them. The fact that the most vocally religious
people I’ve ever met have also been, generally
speaking, the most immoral was never a strong mark in
faith’s favor. Beyond those mutable bible verses there
is, of course, no set standard for what constitutes
honesty. Knowing who to trust is the great American
puzzle, finely crafted from our Horatio Alger rugged
individualism. The shop keep who gives you a gruff
attitude, a good deal and a friendly smile while asking
after your mother’s health and the smooth talking
shyster at the used car lot who’s imminently kind
before selling you a lemon, shooting your dog and
dragging your children off to work in the sweat shops
in American Saipan. Both men could be a kind face and
an honest smile, but in a country where the individual
is king, we’ve lost our sense of community good. How do
you know who to trust and who’s dealing from the bottom
of the deck? I could be idealizing alternate societies
from my own, of course, but there is ample literature
to show that community based communities, rather than
our own individual based society often breed a more
honest man (I may track down the exact references for a
future revision of this paper. Stay tuned!).
But beyond knowing WHO is honest, who are you and I to
even comment on what honest is? What is the definition
of a moral person? Are white lies ok or must every word
you speak be none but bible truth and verse? How about
strategically not lying or leaving information out? Are
there situations where a lie IS honest? How about
analogy? Speak to me of metaphors! Slippery slope here:
very objective. A tough nut to crack.
My personal moral predilection leans
towards intent. I’m a firm and fond believer in the dounto-others standard of morality. I view and choose my
words and actions based on what I think will hurt the
fewest people the least amount possible. Damage
control. This applies to all aspects of my life, and my
social honesty when interacting with others uses honest
intent as its starting point. I believe that lying to a
person is hurting them, but if a small fib or a white
lie will hurt them less than the truth, then I don’t
really hesitate to bend the truth a little. But the
important thing, to my mind at least, is that my
intentions are sincere, my moral fortitude aimed at
generally the right place. So, while my sense of right
and wrong is absolute, my definition of “truth” may be
a little more slippery to get a hold of for other
people. In my eyes, a “lie” is a misrepresentation with
malicious intent whereas the “truth” is an exquisite
balance of factual representation and desire to not
allow anyone to be hurt.
Boy, confusing. Lets try and sum that up a
little cleaner. Most people who know me consider me an
exceptionally honest person. I never lie about anything
of consequence and I never cheat at anything, from the
slightest board game to my taxes. In exchange for this
honesty on my part, I try to assume that other people
will be acting in accordance with my honesty and treat
me the same. I get burned pretty often but you gotta
try, right?
This is the God question: the Matrix
question. Phillip K. Dick, Plato and Robert Heinlein
played in this question, tempting our idea of what is
and isn’t. Is this real? Are we living in the absolute
honest-to-gawd true world? Or are we all going to wake
up someday in a simulation. Vonnegut’s Kilgore Trout
speculates that he, meaning me, is the only real person
and the rest of you are just Robots programmed to
trigger a response from me. Some religions postulate on
a greater world beyond ours, and science trends towards
rotting in the ground. This is the biggie, the faith
When asked to speculate on the greater
world that might or mightn’t exist just beyond my
peripheral vision, my inclination is to simply shrug it
off. For all I know I’m locked up to a computer
stimulating all that I see. Maybe I’m in a loonie bin
cracking my head against the wall, imagining that I’m
typing these words. Or it could be that I’m a figment
of someone else’s delusion. All of these things are
possible, some more probably than others, but all a
possibility. Some people tackle these questions by
choosing one possibility over another. Some simply
never think about them. If heaven happens, then I’ll
believe in it when it’s there in front of me, when it’s
quantifiable. If you’re a robot testing my perceptions
for use in an alien study on humanity’s last vestige of
self, fine. I’ll believe it when you pop up the
evidence. Because why not?
My background is in surrealism. I’ve read
absurdist literature all my life and it has long seeped
into my sense of reality. Anything can happen. I might
wake up tomorrow as a bug and if that happens, I’ll
accept it and move on. I am well aware of the potential
for the strange, some nebulous world set beside and
about ours consisting of what I long ago labeled,
simply, “weird shit.” This affects my day-to-day life
simply in that I follow a credo of whatever happens,
happens. If I wake up tomorrow to discover that you’re
all robots, fine. If I wake up as a bug, there again:
ok. My goal in life, my worldview, is that whatever I’m
experiencing “might” be real, so why not run with it.
If it isn’t real, then who cares what I do and if it is
real, then I’d look pretty dumb in the end by ignoring
it. This defining sense of surrealistic tendencies in
my life has been a large part of my guiding light.
Because of my belief in science, I MUST assume that
this life, this reality, is all that there is and I
therefore act accordingly, treating others as well as
I’m able and attempting to live life as well as I can
given the variables that are set before me. If, in the
end, I dust-to-dust on out, then fine, at least I’ll
have spent my life well and kept entertained, trying
every step of the way to not ever hurt anyone else. If
there’s a heaven, great and keen, I’ll have lived life
well and been a good person and I know, that any God
who could possibly exist will understand that my
intentions were always honorable and let me in even if
I don’t particularly believe. If this is some crazy
alien environment meant to test my reactions, then so
be it. If it isn’t, then also good. I try to be open
about these sorts of things.
Take that, Plato.