What is Truth?

November 6th, 2016

PREFACE

This blog will set the foundation for all other blogs to come. If we are to begin this journey of knowing ourselves and the world in which we live, we must first come to an agreement on what exactly truth is.

The first question I was asked by a friend that read my previous blog (Relationships and Truth) is whether I believe in a concept of “universal truth”, or do I believe that truth is relative to the individual.

This question will serve as an excellent starting point for this blog.

BLOG

Universal truth? or relative truth? The word ‘or’ must be inserted between these two concepts to serve as a separation point, because the truth can not be both.

Before reading on, try to define truth yourself.

Pause reading for a minute and try to come up with a definition. I did this myself while writing just now, and my definition was “something that is proven as fact or reality”. I then googled the dictionary definition for the word, and the result was “the quality or state of being true”.

So, I then googled the definition for “true” because it felt like the dictionary was trying to avoid my question. I got a few hits, here they are;

1.) In accordance with fact or reality.
2.) Accurate or exact

Some synonyms were;

1.) true to life
2.) as it really happened
3.) fact-based

How did you go with your definition? Does it compare to the dictionary? I was quite impressed that my own definition even used the same two words as the dictionary.com definition.

So, can truth be relative? Lets take a look.

RELATIVE TRUTH

I put this specific scenario to a few people and this is basically how it went.

Scenario: Timmy is colour-blind, and for him, he see’s the colour blue as purple. He looks up, and he see’s a purple sky. To him, the sky is purple, and it always has been. It’s all he’s ever seen his entire life, and he rejects anyone that tells him that the sky is blue.

In this scenario, ask yourself, is it true – for anyone involved – that the sky is purple?

Every person I ran this scenario past responded initially with: yes, its a truth for Timmy.
I’ve then asked, “so… are you saying that the truth is relative? and the sky being purple can be a truth for Timmy but not someone else? and they have responded “yes”.

I refer back to the definitions we earlier established.

Is a purple sky in accordance with fact or reality?
Is it accurate to say that the sky is purple?
Is a purple sky true to life?
Of course, the answer to all these questions is no, but I still met with opposition and argument (which is great!).

Here’s an example of an opposing statement I received; “yes, it is true for him, and in accordance with his reality”.
So let’s look at the definition of reality: “the state of things as they actually exist”.

So I ask, is the sky actually purple? or is Timmy just perceiving it as purple?

I followed up with more questions;

Is Timmy colour-blind?
Does Timmy see a purple sky when he looks up?
Is Timmy’s brain confusing the colour blue for purple?
Of course, the answer to all these questions is yes.

The TRUTH is that the sky is blue. The TRUTH is that Timmy’s brain is abnormal and perceiving colour incorrectly. To concede that the sky is purple is nothing but madness.

I claim that the truth can not be relative, it can only be universal if it is to be in accordance with fact or reality.

THE HARSHNESS AND DIFFICULTY OF TRUTH

Did you envision Timmy as a young boy in that previous scenario? I don’t know why, but I did – yet I never mentioned his age. Weird.
Why did I meet such opposition when telling a truth? Why did the people I told this scenario to WANT the truth to be relative?

Well to most people, it would feel harsh telling Timmy that he is wrong and that what he’s seen his whole life is actually untrue.

Telling the truth is difficult at times. Emotion often gets in the way of truth. Shrouds it – hides it, and makes us feel hesitant to speak it.

My daughter drew a picture of Santa Claus the other week and asked me what I thought. She is 5 years old, and I know that she (and her friends) believe in Santa Claus. I hesitated, but answered that I thought it was a very nice picture. My daughter then asked “but Dad, is Santa real?”

I hesitated again. What should I say? I knew the truth myself, but did not want to tell it to her.

As I said, telling the truth is difficult, and my emotion was getting in the way. I thought to myself that I must maintain my integrity. This was a big thing for me personally, because before this philosophy journey, this is not something that would have entered my mind. As we established in my previous blog, there must always be consistency between my own reality and my idea that everyone should be honest.

So I concluded that I must tell the truth, and went with this; “Everyone believes different things. I know that Santa doesn’t exist, but other people believe he does”.

She paused and thought about it for a few seconds, then smiled. “Well, I’m going to believe in Santa, Dad”, and she ran off happily.

I exhaled, and wondered if I had done the right thing. I didn’t lie to my daughter, and my intention was not to hurt her, I just told her the truth.

It’s an interesting thing. As you and I have grown up, we’ve began to understand that our parent’s were not the font of all knowledge and truth we were made to think. Rather, we were kind of ‘bullied’, in a way, in to believing everything they told us was true and correct. If I’m honest about myself as a parent (and about my own parents), communication between parent and child is often either;

1.) Blurting of emotion from the parent with the intent to make the child obey and conform to the parents preference, or
2.) Passing on of cultural norms from one generation to the next.

Neither of these things are fact or reality, and now that we are older, we start to see and understand that it wasn’t objective facts we were fed, but mostly subjective opinions. I don’t want my daughter to grow up and analyse me as a source of wrong, subjective information. Would you want that from your kids? So I have to be consistent in everything – even the small things. Instead of taking the easy route and telling her Santa was real, I took the harder route and told the truth.

I state again, we must discard the subjective opinions pushed on us and relearn and establish our own morality. This will be the topic of the next blog, and we will start with the topic of aggression. But lets stay on truth a little longer. Lets talk about being offended and ensure we both agree entirely on what truth is.

OFFENCE

When is it OK to be offended?

Often, our own emotions determine when we get offended. It might come from anger, humiliation or outrage at a statement or something someone said, but we should always question why we feel the way we do. Intent and truth must be separated.

Whenever I find myself getting offended or emotional about something I hear or read, I always ask myself;
– What is the intent?
– Is it true?

A news article that states “feminists get offended at everything” will of course, offend feminists, but why?
What is the statements intent? To use a public platform with the goal of portraying feminists as something they are not.
Is the statement true? No.
Is it OK for feminists to be offended at this? Yes.
Why? Dishonesty is offensive because it alludes to malintent toward feminists from the writer.

Imagine you are a feminist (if you need to), and your best friend jokes “wow you feminists get offended at everything”.
What is the statements intent? Light humour by taking a dig. Friendly teasing by baiting an emotional response.
Is the statement true? No.
Is it OK for you to be offended at this? No.
Why? There is no malicious intent.

The next time you find yourself getting offended at something someone said or wrote, ask yourself;
What is the intent behind the words?
Is it true?

You might even realise that sometimes, you are getting offended at truth with honourable intent. Treasure this kind of situation, and analyse it, because it will always lead to learning more about yourself.

TEST

So, do we agree that truth must be universal?
Do we agree that truth must be based on facts and reality?
Do we agree that we should only get offended by mal-intent?

If you’ve answered yes to all of the above, please take this little test.

To pass the test, you must read all these statements below, accept them as truth, and accept that you can not get offended by them. These statements are just random facts I’ve come across recently. My intent here is purely educational. There is no mal-intent.

If you are offended at, or can not accept any of these statements, you have failed the test and must reconcile/reflect/ponder these statements in your own mind until you can pass.

Here they are;

1.) There is no evidence that can be used to prove God exists.
2.) A transgender person who was assigned male at birth, will always be male.
3.) In 2015 in the US, black people committed more robberies, assaults and murders than white people, despite only making up 13% of the population.
4.) As a race, Aboriginals have the lowest IQ on average in the world.
5.) Circumcision is genital mutilation.
6.) Socialism has always failed.
7.) The mainstream media lies, constantly.
8.) Men pay the majority of social security taxes, yet are outlived by 4.8 years on average by women. Therefore, on average, women are paid for 5 years more but pay less.

HOW TO GET TO THE TRUTH

When you are presented with a claim, ask yourself – is it true?

There are two common ways to approach a claim (philosophically) to determine for yourself whether it is true or not, and they are more simple than you think.

The first is the Empirical approach. This is based on evidence, and while this system is not perfect, its the best we have (and my personal favourite).

Empirical evidence is based on our senses, such as touch, hearing and seeing. The “Scientific Method” is derived from this approach, and is considered by most the best method by which to investigate phenomena, acquire new knowledge or correct/integrate previous knowledge.

There are occasions where a claim may have empirical evidence both for, and against it. In these cases, the second approach is often used to reinforce a standpoint.

The second is the Rational approach. This approach is independent from experience or the senses, and simply uses deduction from pure reasoning to determine truth. If you google the term “A priori”, you will see some very basic examples of this approach.

“If George V reigned at least four days, then he reigned more than three days”. By deduction from reasoning alone, this statement can be proven as truth.

For most of my blogs, I will use the Empirical approach wherever possible to prove a claim. However, there are occasions where a rational approach is required.

HOW NOT TO GET TO THE TRUTH

You can not prove a negative.

Timmy comes to you with his claim “Cows can fly”.
You respond by saying “No, actually cows can not fly”.
Timmy states “Oh? Prove it?”.

This is a trap Timmy has carefully laid out for you. The burden of proof is not on you. You are not the one with the claim. You should tell Timmy that he has it backwards, and he must prove that “Cows can fly” or stop talking nonsense. However, for the sake of understanding why you can not prove a negative, lets assume you take the bait.

You respond by saying “Ok, meet me at the top of the nearest cliff at 5pm Friday”.
You and Timmy both arrive at the cliff edge, and you have a cow in tow. You instruct Timmy to watch as you push the cow off the cliff, and listen to the thud as it hits the canyon below.
You state “As I said, cows can not fly”
Timmy responds by saying “Well, cows just don’t like to fly on Friday afternoons.”

You could repeat this scenario a million times, and Timmy could retort with any number of reasons why the cow didn’t fly.
“That particular cow could never fly”
“You pressured that cow and it couldn’t perform”

You can not prove a negative, so don’t try.
Note that there is a difference between proving a negative, and in disproving someone’s logic. If I come to you with a claim and provide evidence, you can provide counter evidence to show why my logic or reasoning may be incorrect.

My advice is simple. Just don’t let someone with a claim transfer burden of proof to you. You wont get anywhere.

CONCLUSION

It’s my hope that we both agree that truth is not relative, and must be universal and based on facts and reality. If there is anything you are stuck on, or if you disagree, please reply to this blog so we can chat further!

We have one more fundamental topic to cover before we start talking on specific topics – morality and aggression.

I’ve stated multiple times in this blog and the previous that we must discard the set of principles and virtues forced upon us by others, and that we must establish our own morals. We must start somewhere, and it will be on the topic of aggression.

Be good to yourself.
Mathew Smith.

 

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