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