What is True?
BY: Troy Murphy | September 2016
*Edited August 10, 2018
Truth is elusive. What is proven today may be challenged tomorrow. We need a different approach that allows for confidence in action without a closed mind to possible alternatives.
“What’s the truth?” philosophers and wandering souls have inquire for millenniums. Humans have chased truth from the dawn of the thinking mind. Even when truth is discovered, how do we know for certain that we are not delighting in another error filled theory? Over the centuries, most commonly accepted truths eventually are disproven. New theories are rejected, rebelled against, slowly accepted then embraced, just to be disproven. And the cycle begins again. Given the uncertainty of knowledge, how do we treat our beliefs? The things we know that aren't appear the same as the things we know that are true. Should we doubt everything, skeptically withholding from any commitment? How could we enjoy any security without some foundation? We, if we desire to flourish, must intelligently act, accepting the risk, and learning from the failures. We will make plenty of mistakes along this path. We gather knowledge the best we can, mustering as much wisdom as we have, and then move forward, hoping we are doing the right thing.
Moving towards goals mustn’t stall while waiting for untainted knowledge; fact gathering must eventually yield to action. We don’t act blindly or carelessly; but also, not with perfect vision. Somewhere in the grayness between known and chaos, perfectly planned and chance, we trudge forward on the dimly lighted path of partial knowledge. Waiting for all the facts interferes with progression, we miss opportunities to those anxiously willing to risk, swooping up the goodies while we meticulously calculate the costs. It’s human to want to know truth—in its entirety. We want security. Knowing the causes behind events is the basis of wisdom, directing improved choices in the future.
Our concepts of what is truth changes as we experience life. We organize the past, drawing conclusions from the chaos, to create viable meaning that we can use. The explanations we apply serve us well, creating security and workable plans of action. Our conceptual understanding—the explanations—may be time sensitive. New exposures, people and knowledge are dynamic and change the rules to our simpler games that were useful in childhood, discrediting old explanations. Our growth—increasing wisdom—demands more, accepting broadening complexity. We must be willing to expand beyond the comforting borders of rigid beliefs.
We don’t create truth—something is true, or it isn’t. Since we can’t infallibly determine what is and isn’t true, we need a guidance system to sort the continuous flow of information to reliably make helpful predictions.
"Our conceptual understanding—the explanations—may be time sensitive. New exposures, people and knowledge are dynamic and change the rules to our simpler games that were useful in childhood, discrediting old explanations."
While we cognitively evaluate facts and compute probabilities, our bodies respond almost immediately with feeling. Feeling is a tangible—a reality. The body reaction establishes a connection with the experience, this on the spot assessment is a creation from a biological mechanism, integrating pasts with elements in the present, and a quick prediction of positive or negative. When the machinery of the body reacts to events (the integration of pasts, present to create a sensation) with felt peace, we know that the felt peace is real. We categorize the experience as a trigger for peace. Feelings provide direction, establishing a personal relationship between experience and the self; strong feelings are an invitation for deeper investigations.
The feeling response may misdirect. We may have created broad categories from youthful experience that need refining. Some experiences, although comforting, need discarding; other happenings, although distressing, need embracing; how we feel doesn’t necessarily identify which opportunities to chase and which to flee.
We must explore feelings, unveiling the underlying beliefs. When beliefs and subsequent feelings are viewed together they make sense, but when we scrutinize a wayward belief, the affect (our response) no longer is sensible. Viewed together, beliefs and feelings provide insights; truths about ourselves, not necessarily natural truths. Through the mindfulness, we learn about ourselves—biology and personal histories. Mistakenly, many oversimplify the investigation. Instead of scrutinizing beliefs with a more objective examination to gain a deeper understanding of complexity, they quickly accept the initial conscious feeling of ‘good’ or ‘bad’ as a divine inspired map pointing which way to go.
Wisdom demands more if we wish to escape faulty patterns and crippling reactions. Using feelings to establish truth is shortsighted. Controversial issues, such as abortion and gun control, stir deep emotions on both sides of the argument. Are the feelings we feel more determinant of a truth than the feeling of someone on the opposite side of the aisle. We can do better. We must not embrace beliefs on feelings alone, excluding opportunities to broaden our understanding.
Our relationship to a belief provides the context that produces the emotion. When we are highly invested, we experience extreme emotions—elation, anger, sadness and even panic. We naturally focus on the facts that verify the correctness of our positive or negative emotion. Our perception is biased. The truth appears obvious and we fail to fairly scrutinize the underlying beliefs.
Emotions, however, should not be ignored; they bring to consciousness the intimate connections living in our unconscious mind. Our examination into the emotion coaxes hidden biases out of the shadows and into the illumination of awareness.
"When we are highly invested, we experience extreme emotions—elation, anger, sadness and even panic. We naturally focus on the facts that verify the correctness of our positive or negative emotion."
Once our relationship to an external experience is identified (I feel very passionate about this), we can narrow the investigation to more subjective facts, opening to the truth, while limiting the pesky influence of pre-conceived bias. With a wider scope of awareness, we can critique, looking for supporting or refuting evidence, probing alternative explanations, and expanding our knowledge.
Before blurting out that “Democrats are Nazis” as a prominent figure did last week, we could intelligently examine what we are comparing about the Democrats with which parts of Nazism. Obviously, Nazis and American Democrats are two different political entities, from different times, different nations, and vastly different goals. A critical examination would expose some similarities but mostly shocking differences in basic ideologies. The broad categorization of comparing a present day entity to an evil murderous regime, when unexamined, supplements already harsh feelings, cementing our bias, and limiting wisdom.
I love science. Science continually provides new and fascinating knowledge. But scientific studies are based on partial correlations. Scientists classify findings with words such as “indicates” or “suggests.” Science expands and deepens our appreciation for complexity by not establishing too many irrefutable truths.
The true beauty of life doesn’t project from exactness of a few musical notes; but from the wondrous blending of all the instruments in the symphony. The awesomeness of life isn’t from exactness but of the ever-expanding complexity. We learn and move forward with faith and hope. We must embrace this unknowable complexity, harmonizing both the known and unknown, experiencing life as a whole; even though we don’t know the particulars.