The concept of truth has fascinated me for roughly the past ten years, and it became even more of an important issue in my life in the past three or four years.
Maybe it was always the case, but it seems like recently truth has become less important than winning. I know that this is often the case in the legal world. To both the prosecution and defense, it matters little whether the person on trial is actually guilty, as long as the “right” side wins the case. There is too much money, power, and ego on both sides to allow something as trivial as truth to get in the way of a victory.
But the law is messy, complicated, and I don’t really understand it at all, so let’s move away from there.
I look at anything in the world that is disputable through three lenses (I’m going to use my own language here, I know many philosophers have put this in better, cleaner terms):
- Provable truths
- Unprovable truths
Let’s run through each of these, starting with number 1: provable truths (although it might be kind of fun to start with number 2 or three. It wouldn’t make any sense and would be very confusing though…)
This category includes items that are either:
- True by definition.
- Mathematically provable
“True by definition” includes statements such as “all bachelors are unmarried”. Since the definition of bachelor is that they are unmarried, this statement is true. (Side note: if you talk to any philosopher for longer than a few minutes, this example always comes up.)
“Mathematically provable” encompasses math principles that are the basis for much of our scientific understanding such as 1+1=2. You can run experiments over and over and over again using high-level computers, dobermans, or even sleeping relatives and see that 1+1=2 remains true.
Truths that cannot be proven one way or another can rest comfortably in this next category: “unprovable truths”.
This is probably the most complicated one, Therefore, I am going to be basic with my examples and conclusion so as to not force those of you kindly reading my blog to have to sit through a 45 minute read. If you’d like to talk through it further, send me a message. Examples of unprovable truths include statements such as:
- There is a God.
- We are living in a sophisticated simulation.
For both of these statements, there is a truth. It is true that there is a God, or it is not true that there is a God. It is true that we are living in a simulation, or it is not true that we are living in a simulation. Debating these questions is fun and the process can take you down logical roads that are intense and tricky to navigate, but once you get to a certain point, you have to take a leap of faith.
It’s unlikely that we will ever develop techniques to definitively say which of these statements are true, however, this does not mean that there isn’t a truth that we just can’t access due to our limited senses, current neurological capabilities, etc.
Opinions are a different animal entirely. People often try to claim that opinions contain truths or can be analogous to truths in certain circumstances. But in my mind, they do not contain an absolute or relative truth at all. They are…opinions such as:
- Nike running shoes look better than Adidas running shoes.
- The sound of butter sizzling in a pan is the best noise in the world.
These are both opinions. We don’t use logical or step-wise methods to come to conclusions on these items. Instead we use our past experiences, our preferences, the pleasure centers of our brains.
While this, I’m sure, seems obvious and like a waste of time to even mention, this brings me to my larger point.
The Larger Point
Between the three options above, what do you think the news media should focus on? Since this is a one-sided conversation, I won’t wait for your answer because I will not hear you, and you won’t have heard me so you won’t be able to answer the question anyway until this is published. I suppose I could go back and edit it once you’ve read that question and had a chance to think about it but….no.
My thought would be that the news should focus solely on provable truths. Without using colorful language and biases, news reporters should convey the necessary information in such a way that the public can then make their own opinions about the topics, having received the objective data.
I don’t know if this is a controversial stance. It seems like it shouldn’t be. However, I hear very few people calling for the creation of an unbiased news channel and many, many people insisting that the incredibly biased, opinion-based news source that they favor should be the only option available.
Which leads me to think that many people believe that opinions are somehow tied to the truth. I just can’t wrap my head around this belief.
I’ll close with a great quote that kicked off a great book I read the other day:
“The truth does not change according to our ability to stomach it” – Flannery O’Connor
2 thoughts on “Day 2: Truth”
I’ve eaten at your establishment twice and although the service is irrefutably great, I have 1 qualm: the corned beef hash I’ve ordered thrice now (I put down 2 plates my first visit) is lacking the key component of coriander. Please look into adding a dash or two in the future.
As for the post about truths, I find it very relevant and necessary in today’s age and tend to agree with your stance. I believe the way we have consumed news over the past few years has also added to the increasing amount of opinions floating around as truth. I’ve found that credentials can get you in the door for a platform, but saying what people want to hear can put money in your pockets. Take Jordan Peterson for example. In academia, he is actually very well established for his research on behavior and beliefs, and took 13 years to write a book about how beliefs come to be. But he has made millions as a political commentator, which is not his area of expertise. I can’t say for certain, but he most likely knows what buttons to press to get millions of views on his social media platform to increase his wealth. His views are then taken as truth by his followers. Monetizing opinions is where I believe we have gone very astray. I would say I lean more to the right politically. And Jordan Peterson is right-wing so I don’t mean to say this is leans only one way.
A question: what is the best platform for our opinions to be heard? If it is not the news, and I have to believe it can’t be social media, any suggestions?
Thank you for your thoughtful comment on the post. I’ll set your vitriolic assessment of my chef’s use of coriander on the back burner for now. But just know that Diatelone does the absolute best he can with the sparse ingredients I allow him to use and the constant humiliation I impose on my staff as a business owner. It builds character, they tell me.
Your question is an important one. I’m not sure I know the answer but I would offer this: when we stick completely to the truth, there’s no doubt that it can become incredibly boring. The truth is rarely exciting, and few people seem to be actually interested in it. Just like with diet and exercise culture: the only way to lose weight, as we understand with our current scientific knowledge, is to create a caloric deficit. i.e. you must expend more calories than you take in if you wish to lose weight, and reverse the principle if you wish to gain weight. That’s all there is to it. This has been repeatedly found through scientific study. But that statement can’t be turned into a compelling book. I can’t sell a million copies of that one line. What I can sell is a ten book series on why the ketogenic diet will help you lose weight, while improving your vision among other dubious claims.
So, to the point of which platform is best for our opinions: I think they should be kept to social media, books, magazines, in-person discussion and opinion-based talk shows that don’t claim they are reporting the news. The news should not contain opinions. I believe that the news should be boring and should stick to the objective facts pertaining to a given story.