Doubt May Be The Best Sensor

The surest way to lose the truth is to pretend that you already possess it. Gordon Allport

Today it is hard (often impossible) to know for certain what is true. Although that has probably always been true, it was less true in the distant past. To the medieval mind the possibility of doubt did not exist. William Manchester. Actually I have been promoting the benefit of doubt for many years, but it doesn’t seem to be catching on.

I think most people would agree that truth has become a major political issue. Headlines are saying: “We Live in a Post Truth World”. Post-truth was the Oxford Dictionaries website’s 2016 word of the year. It defined post-truth as relating or denoting circumstances in which objective facts are less influential in shaping public opinion than appeals to emotion and personal belief. In this blog I am suggesting that the technique of political doubting may be a modern day truth detector test, a way of sensing “alternative facts” and falsehoods. Can you imagine a politician saying: “I don’t know?” Or even “I’m not sure?”  Can you imagine President Trump having any doubts?

It seems that even if a politician doesn’t know or isn’t sure he/she can’t say so. Of course this has always been true; but what makes the need for a political truth detector now so urgent is that our current president’s “Trump’s Truths” are making history. If other politicians follow Trump’s successful methods, we would have an impaired government and a lack of public trust. How bad could this be?  Gleb Tsipursky predicts: * Without serious intervention to clean up the pollution of truth in politics, this spiral will lead to the end of our political order as we know it. It’s no exaggeration to say that relying on emotions and personal opinions over  facts will very likely destroy our political system.

When government doesn’t have the public trust, it needs a reliable truth detector. Emotion and personal belief, in the definition of post-truth, overrules objective facts. Emotion and personal belief gives a feeling of certainty. At the risk of a self-serving opinion, I would propose that attaching feelings of doubt, uncertainty and open-mindedness to one’s emotions, beliefs, facts and truths would serve as a possible sensor or detector of reality. Definition of reality: The state of things as they actually exist, as opposed to an idealistic or notional idea of them. Oxford Dictionary.

Doubt, uncertainty and open-mindedness lead to questions and being receptive to new ideas and information. Being sure you posses the truth leads to closed-mindedness, which is unreceptive and has nowhere to go. Maybe we should start a political discussion (or even a debate) about the virtues of open-mindedness vs. the virtues of closed-mindedness. Which is the best truth detector?

  • An article titled “Toward a Post-Lies Future” in Utne Reader, Summer 2017 and The Humanist, March – April 2017


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