Truth

Standard

What is truth? No, I’m not talking about “the truth”. Like what things may or may not be true. But truth itself. What does it mean for something to be true or not?

Truth is relatively simple for objects. Truth for an object refers to it’s existence. I can know the truth about the existence of an object by observing it’s physical reality. I can experience it and through observation by one or more of my senses, know if that “thing” is really there. I know my pen is real because I can pick it up, experience it’s weight and physical appearance and know the truth of it’s existence. (Yes, we can debate the philosophy of body-mind reality of consciousness but that’s outside the point of this post.)

You might doubt the “truth” of my pen (for example) and I might have to prove that to you. I could show you a picture or video. That would be evidence for it’s existence. You might want to come see it, or touch it to know that it is real. Depending on the claim I have for the existence of any physical object you are probably going to want better and better evidence. If I tell you I won a Ferrari, you might need to see it to actually believe it, or want some other proof of ownership, etc. Extraordinary truth claims are going to warrant extraordinary evidence. If I tell you I was abducted by aliens, the amount of physical evidence you might need would be extensive.

So what about truth that is not an object? How do we know if something that we cannot experience physically is true? Let’s start with a familiar example: How do we know that the circumference of a circle is related to the diameter by an exact ratio we call Pi? Well, we could measure it and test it physically… but that will only get us so far. At some point we won’t be able to measure it accurately enough to ensure that the infinitely repeating irrational number Pi is correct. We need to “prove” it using logic. Even something as simple as basic addition and subtraction can be “proven” to work using mathematical or logical proofs. Using such proofs and building upon them we can determine a lot of how the physical world works even when we can’t directly experience it.

What about concepts that are not as straight forward? How would someone know the truth about a complex social system? What if we wanted to know the truth of a political ideology or religious claim? Unfortunately, some of these systems are not the matter of truth or not true. But closer to the truth or further from the truth. Their complexity means that elements of them can be truthful. That is, that they can be actually representative of the world as it exists. Or they can be untruthful, and not accurately describe that reality. Being able to judge is the challenge of any person, and society. The closer any person or group of people comes to finding that truth, the more knowledge they will have about the reality of the world we live in. That knowledge gives power to the actions they are able to make. Actions made based on truth are more likely to produce the intended outcomes than actions based on untruth.

So the truth of a concept is it’s ability to accurate describe whatever system it is a part of. In science it’s often tested by it’s predictive ability. We start with a hypothesis that we think might be true and we test to see if it’s ability to predict future outcomes holds true. That truth becomes something we know describes the way the world, or universe, or reality works.

So how do we determine what is true and not? How do we find truth? We can use the tools above! We try to observe as best we can, use logic and rational thought, and examine good evidence. Truth seekers always need to remain skeptical. Finding truth means challenging preconceived ideas and testing what we already might think is true. Finding truth means listening more often, looking for logic and reason, and not being afraid of challenging what we might hope for, and accepting what really is.

Truth is the way to making good choices and living a good life. If we are not basing our choices on truth, then we can’t possibly predict the outcome. And predicting the outcome by making choices based on truth is the only way to achieve the goals we have, regardless of what morality we choose to live by. And we don’t get to choose truth. Truth just is. Much like my example pen, I don’t get to choose what color the ink is after I buy it, or get to choose if it works or not, or choose how long it will last. The pen is what it is. And the more truthful my understanding of that pen the more use I can get from it. Such is life. The more truthful our lives can be the more happiness, love, and peace we can find, if those are the goals we have. Such are my goals and so truth is what I will seek.