Truth is a malleable concept; made nebulous by the Orwellian ‘doublespeak’ and linguistic violence that permeate much of the MSM. Not to be outdone, the powers that be, in seeking to hold on to power or to present the right image, almost universally undermine truth by their ‘pollispeak’ under the tutelage of their so-called media advisors (bloviating gadflies who criticize politicians for their decisions when working in the MSM but as turncoat ‘media advisors’ tell them to do the exact opposite!). The idea of truth in public discourse has been further undermined by ‘whataboutery’ (the countering of an accusation/question by a counter-accusation or shifting attention to another issue) that has infiltered the contemporary zeitgeist – so ably promoted, demonstrated and championed by one Donald Trump.
Everyone has their version of truth. There is my truth, your truth and other versions of truth out there. So, how we know what we know to be true? Philosophers have fancy words for it. They call it epistemology (ways of knowing or learning about social reality), as distinct from ontology (knowledge of the nature and form of that reality).
Essentially, it boils down our individual ability to deduce truth by percolating it from the information overload we are subjected to – and either accepting or rejecting some or all the information we come across – to interpret the world and the environment which we inhabit. This process of distilling truth starts from our upbringing, early influences, interactions with our peers and the quality of education we may or may not receive, all which collectively operate to shape our worldview. But one thing is for certain: we don’t always believe what we are told or what we are taught. This adds to the complexity for sure, but how do we actually intuit truth from falsehood?
One way, is through the process of self-introspection or self-discovery. It involves constant self-observation and self-criticism to overcome self-deception, leading to the identification and rejection of falsehoods. It can expand our awareness of what truth is, and helps redefine it by shedding of falsehoods. Leo Tolstoy put it more elegantly: “Truth, like gold, is to be obtained not by its growth, but by washing away from it all that is not gold.” The washing-away process has to start with what you already know to be the truth.
Second, is by engaging in original thinking. It requires us to rethink critically and rationally our long-held beliefs to reassess how we can add value or look at things more objectively. Thinking is hard and often we are comforted by received wisdom or what we have been force-fed as objective facts.
Third, is by listening carefully, reasoning and critically observing, all of which enable us to identify and reject faulty reasoning. This has been described by the American novelist, Ernest Hemingway (1899-1961) as “crap-detection”. Crap detection enable us to present counter arguments, persuade and reformulate our ideas through criticism and soul-searching contributing to rejection of untruths. It calls for constant vigilance over it, to continue to disavow falsehoods.
Fourth, can be controlled skepticism, which needs to be healthy but not radical skepticism which can be harmful. Controlled skepticism (intuitive or deductive) can be the first step towards ‘crap detection’.
Physicists, sociobiologists, and other researchers in science, however, have more exacting requirements. Their proofs have to be reproducible under controlled conditions. As Richard Dawkins has brilliantly demonstrated in The Magic of Reality, scientists derive truth by ‘direct detection’ using our five senses; or by ‘indirect detection’ using our five senses but relying on assistance from special instruments, such as a microscope or telescope, etc.; or by ‘more indirect detection’ using our judgements to create models of what represents reality and ‘then testing those models to see if they successfully predict what we can see or feel, etc. but with or without the use of special instruments.’ Therefore, even in science, it still boils down to how we use of our senses to examine the truth of we perceive as reality.
Existentialist, Friedrich Nietzsche, in Human, All Too Human, in discussing transcendence in art, suggests that truth is found in the ‘rainbow colours around the outer edges of human knowledge and imagination.’ But the question is: how attuned are we to our consciousness to explore the ‘outer edges’ of our ‘knowledge and imagination’? Therein lies our challenge and, as for the truth in art, it can only ever represent a lie through which we are compelled to see the truth.
From the point of view of metaphysical enquiry, the idea of truth can also be very unsettling for non-believers. For instance, to Gandhi: “The word (Truth) is derived from Sat which means ‘being.’ Nothing is or exists in reality except Truth. That is why Sat or Truth is perhaps the most important name of God, in fact it is more correct to say that Truth is God than to say God is truth.” But he goes on to argue that the essence of God also incorporates the notion of Chit (knowledge) and Ananda (bliss). Where there is no truth, there can be no true knowledge; only where there is true knowledge there is bliss. The Hindu concept of the Ultimate Reality is also a trinity: Satchitananda or Brahma, Vishnu and Shiva, or The Creator, The Preserver and The Destroyer – essentially three levels of our consciousness but one Divine Persona., often grossly misunderstood in the West. Hindus have freedom to worship the idea of the Singular Divine behind their deities, which are akin to rivers flowing to one vast ocean, the Ishwara or the Ultimate Reality.
The scrutiny of western metaphysics shows it is just as problematic. It needs to be examined through its own prism. The challenge remains for us to pay greater attention to how we arrive at our own truths. Kant’s Enlightenment motto remains just as relevant today: Supere Aude or Dare to know.
Gopal Nair PhD is a Sydney based writer and commentator. The opinions expressed herein are his and do not represent the views of the publisher(s) – May 2021.