Truth Varies

How do you know what is true?

The trouble with truth is the trouble with the dictionary definition: A statement proven to be or accepted as true. Apparently truth varies: it all depends on the definition. A true statement doesn’t need proof, only acceptance to be true. This makes truth like the definition of faith: belief that does not rest on logical proof or material evidence. The dictionary definition of belief doesn’t help: mental acceptance of and conviction in the truth. This means the trouble with truth, or with faith or belief is that everyone doesn’t define it the same way, and by dictionary definition, they all can be true. So the way we define the problem is the problem.

In 2005 Stephen Colbert reintroduced the word “truthiness” and it was named the word of the year. He said the word meant, the quality of a thing feeling true without any evidence suggesting it actually was. We’re talking about something that seems like truth — the truth we want to exist.  His point then was that truthiness had become common practice in contemporary social-political discourse. What can be said about the role of truth in politics today? What can be said about truth anywhere today?

If someone has the mental acceptance and conviction it is true heaven exists, then it is true. If someone else has the mental acceptance and conviction it is true heaven doesn’t exists, then it is true. It seems hard to understand how it can be true that heaven exists and true that heaven doesn’t exist. A mental acceptance and conviction that the earth is flat shouldn’t make it true that the earth is flat — without logical proof or material evidence. What seems to be needed is a definition of truth that is conclusive, that puts an end to doubt and uncertainty. But of course I wouldn’t like that.

My solution (2009) was to propose a strategy of treating truth as a hypothesis. But being uncertain about the truth is a hard sell. The scientific method is not conclusive; it involves hypotheses, observations, empirical or material evidence and logical proof. It is always open to doubt, questions, and new evidence. It is uncertain. But you don’t have to be paralyzed by this strategy. If necessary you can act on truth as a hypothesis and learn from experience.

Regardless of the dictionary definitions and my strategy proposal, it is still “true” that truth resides in the mind of the beholder. Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi explains:

… depending on the perspective of the viewer, the angle of vision, the time frame, and the scale of observation one might see very different pictures of the same underlying truth.


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